By Shelley Grieshop
A bicyclist speeds by the Stachler home on Enterprise Street, suddenly slowing as he spots a large, gray figure in the driveway.
He rides away shaking his head in bewilderment -- with a grin on his face. It's not often you see an elephant in a driveway.
"We've gotten lots and lots of comments," says Celina resident Ellen Stachler, who along with husband, Ted, is creating a life-size elephant for their church's summer Bible school program.
Standing a full 71ò2 -feet tall and 10-feet long, and looking every bit as loveable as Disney's Dumbo, the elephant will soon grace the front lawn of St. John Lutheran Church on North Main Street, the "purple door church."
The church's Vacation Bible School (VBS) is slated for Aug. 1-5. The theme this year is the "Serengeti Trek." This isn't the first creative project undertaken by the Stachlers for the church. The couple has created bigger-than-life models of an eagle and monarch butterfly, large replicas of Celina's lighthouse and the church's purple doors, complete with its stained glass and 3-bell tower.
All were displayed in past Lake Festival parades. Church members are currently debating whether to give the elephant a ride in this year's event.
Ellen Stachler, a kind-hearted jokester, laughs about the contribution she and her husband make to the church.
"You know when you're asked to sign up at church and list your talent? Well, I guess this is it," she says grinning.
Last year the Stachlers built the big purple gift that was positioned in front of the church during the Christmas holiday. Its presence spurred many area residents to ask, "What's in there?"
"I'm a bus driver and do you know how many people asked me that?" says Cindy Snyder, St. John's youth and education director.
When the Stachlers finally opened the present, the congregation was delighted to find a beautiful nativity set inside.
It was Snyder who approached the Stachlers earlier this year about making something big to advertise the VBS. (She's learned to use the word "big" cautiously with the Stachlers.)
When she drove to the Stachlers home last week at the request of Ellen Stachler, she was delighted but not a bit surprised by the enormous size of the herbivorous mammal.
"They are so talented and gifted, and I honestly think they enjoy doing it," Snyder adds.
She believes the elephant, as well as the other past projects displayed at the church, gives a warm welcome to everyone who sees it.
Ted Stachler first built a wooden frame for the elephant then covered it with chicken wire -- two rolls, each measuring 3-by-50-foot -- plus extra footage borrowed from a relative. The ivory tusks are actually "noodles" that kids use as swimming toys, shaped to a point at one end.
The couple planned to use a sturdy cloth as the elephant's thick hide until a freak incident last Thursday. As they worked on the project outside, a storm brewed and Ted Stachler grabbed a gray tarp in the garage to protect the elephant from the weather.
"I said, 'Ted, look. This really looks like an elephant now,' " Ellen Stachler explains.
The lightweight tarp not only appears to give the towering animal that realistic wrinkled look, it will help protect it from the elements as it greets visitors at the church.
Ellen Stachler stands on a ladder to hand-sew the seams of the tarp. Soon the finishing touches will be added, hopefully in time for the elephant's debut at this Sunday's ice cream social at the church.
Meanwhile, the comments continue. Ted, who owns the barbershop next door, has heard plenty of jokes from his customers since the project began.
"One guy said he thought he was going to have to give up drinking when he first spotted the thing in our driveway," Stachler says chuckling. "Yeah, it's been interesting lately."