BY KATIE MATTESON
Have you noticed something, or more accurately, someone missing from North Main and Hamilton streets?
George the Kilted Penguin has been in rehab since Oct. 3 and is expected to return to his post above the entryway to George’s Tavern by Nov. 23, when his re-dedication will take place on his 25th birthday.
George was born back in 1994 when former tavern owner Dave Popoff commissioned local metal sculpture artist Bill Reid to create George to celebrate the history of the tavern, which was founded by his uncle Korun “George” Georgieff in 1946.
“As we were nearing the 50-year mark in business, I spoke to Bill and asked if he would be interested in creating our George, bringing to (symbolic) life my Racine experience and to celebrate all that was related to George’s.” Popoff said during a phone interview from his home in Studio City, Calif.
Popoff retired in 2014 and moved to his wife’s hometown in sunny California. He doesn’t miss the harsh winters of Wisconsin, but he does miss George and is happy he’s getting a fresh look.
His facelift came about at a Racine Art Museum fundraiser when Sharon Martinoff, a member of the RAM staff and board member of the Racine Kilties, had a casual conversation with Reid and learned that he was the creator of George.
Martinoff had been concerned about George’s health, as he had weathered over the years on his perch above the tavern’s door. She’d even offered to purchase the penguin from bar owner Gary Gibson, but was informed that he couldn’t sell it because Popoff still owned the building.
When Martinoff met Reid she learned that he had been hoping for the opportunity to refresh George, as he was also bothered by his deteriorating condition.
Everything came together on the day after Great Lakes Brewfest (the Kilites annual fundraiser at the Racine Zoo), when the clan got together to debrief and Papoff dropped in for a visit. Martinoff talked to him about Reid’s willingness to rehab the penguin and the Kilties’ willingness to cover the restoration cost, taking George down off the building, transporting him to Reid’s studio and bringing him back home.
Two weeks later, George was on a truck bound for Reid’s workshop.
So what’s the story about George’s unique look?
In Popoff’s words: “George symbolizes, celebrates and pays tribute to my Macedonian heritage (laurel), his love of life and creation (while holding a trumpet fish and music).
“The penguin celebrates the Penguin Players, a local cabaret troupe which launched its humble beginning at George’s.
“The penguin’s tuxedo imbues the formality of live theater, one that was brought into existence with our beloved Over Our Head Players, who perform at Sixth Street Theatre, who may also trace their roots to George’s Tavern…
“And last, but not in the least, the Mad Plaid (Kilt worn by George), represents the organization which helped shape my life and taught me what is possible through team effort focused on a common goal; through inspiration, discipline and self-motivation: the Racine Kiltie Drum & Bugle Corp organizations. Forever I am grateful for that life experience.”
For George’s homecoming and rededication will take place on Nov. 23 with an unveiling at 1 p.m., followed by a performance by the Mad Plaid Brass. Gibson will tap a special beer in honor of George.
“We’ll be putting One Barrel Brewing’s “Penguin Pale Ale” on tap in time for George’s return,” Gibson said. “The brewery’s graphic department will create a custom logo for the circle on top, with Mad Plaid around the edge, and George’s logo in the center.”