The Michael’s Signs crew installs the new entrance sign to the Johnson Community Sports Complex at Pritchard Park.
Stephen, Michael and Vikki Prochaska proudly display the signage destined for the new U.S. Cellular stage on the north end of the Summerfest grounds.
BY KATIE MATTESON
In 1948, Michael and Gloria Prochaska started their sign company in a rented garage on Franklin Street in Racine. The couple had been married just two years – not long after Michael was honorably discharged as a corporal from the United States Marine Corps. He served from May 1942 to November 1945 in the South Pacific theater during World War II, and received a Purple Heart for action on Tinian.
In the beginning, Michael’s Signs specialized in neon glass bending, servicing signage and installation of new signage. Michael worked in the shop and in the field, while Gloria kept the books and cared for the couple’s four children.
Their youngest son, Stephen and his wife Vikki bought the business in 1987 and built the company’s 20,000 square foot headquarters, located at 3914 S. Memorial Dr. in the Stephen Olsen Industrial Park. They also recently purchased the 8,000-foot building next door.
During 2018, the owners and their 21 employees will celebrate the company’s 70th anniversary.
One of their employees is their son Michael, who brings his expertise in graphic design and technology to the third generation of the family business.
And even though the company’s founder passed away in 2013, followed three months later by his spouse, his spirit and the values he instilled in his son and grandson continue to live on.
“He was a self-made man who taught us to respect people, be honest and deliver what we said we would,” Stephen said. “His handshake was his contract.”
Stephen said his first job in the family business was behind a broom and he started earning a wage at age 14 or 15. After high school he went off on his own and became a sheet metal journeyman before coming back to the family business.
By then the company had purchased its own building at 1333 Villa St. and the number of employees and scope of projects had expanded.
“I learned a lot working with Dad’s guys,” Stephen said. “And Dad was always very creative and great with customers.”
The impact of 70 years of signmaking is apparent in Racine, across the state and beyond. The business has expanded through the years. LED has all but replaced neon and designs are created using computer-based technology, not hand drawn on napkins over a cup of coffee at the Toddle Inn Restaurant, Stephen reminisced.
“We still take great pride in our craftsmanship,” Stephen said. “We don’t build widgets, we design, fabricate and install custom products that project each of our customers’ unique images.”
Projects now include architecture and building identification, monuments and pylons, channel letters, electronic message centers, graphic imaging, interiors, custom fabrication, project management and vehicle graphics.
Favorites include the O&H Bakery viking ship sign, the Summerfest Miller Lite Oasis signage and message center, the Route 20 guitar sign, signage for the Rockwell Automation headquarters in Milwaukee, custom fabrication for the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin in Pewaukee, as well as long-term relationships with Blain’s Farm and Fleet, Rogan’s Shoes and Gateway Technical College.
Other recent installations include the SC Johnson Aquatic Center signage, building signage at Vapemeisters, building and interior signage at Twenty Twenty Family Vision Center, InSinkerator’s new headquarters signage, Brookside/Willowbrook renovation interior and exterior signage, Educators Credit Union and Ascension signage throughout the City of Racine.
Projects in the works include new wayfaring signage for the City of Racine, rebranding signage for the Fond du Lac, West Bend and Beaver Dam campuses of Moraine Park Technical College and signage for the new U.S. Cellular stage on the north end of the Summerfest grounds.
Stephen and Vikki are grateful for their long-term employees, with whom they share profits and try to continue to provide generous benefits.
“We’re careful not to burn people out.” Stephen said. “We want them to be home on the weekends, but there are times we get busier than usual and need them to come in for a couple hours on Saturday.”
Stephen added that the company is a two-union shop for Sheetmetal Local #18 and Electrical Workers Local #430..
The company continues to grow and are currently looking to fill positions in graphic design, manufacturing, inside and outside sales.
To learn more about the company and view their portfolio, visit michaelsigns.com.