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Eric's Heroes: Ingenuity & creativity help a small town shine a little brighter

Eric's Heroes: A small-town ritual brings light to something left in the dark. (KOMO News)

STANWOOD, Wash. -- Not far from the open fields where snow geese flock by the thousands, and just off the main strip of downtown Stanwood, there used to be a lumber mill.

The Hamilton Mill was the lifeblood of the area, and right in the middle of the mill, there was a smokestack.

The mill burned down in the 1960s, but the stack still casts a long shadow in Stanwood.

Every once in a while, some of the boys from the Stanwood Lions Club get together at the base of the stack and they go to work.

Jim Joy talks about what happened 20 years ago.

"Okay, there were four old guys and they met at the Viking Restaurant for breakfast and they were talking one day, and one of them saw the smokestack in Monroe and said, 'hey, why do we do something with ours.'"

The men got to drawing on a napkin and came up with an idea.

"They were all old timers, they have all passed on now," Joy said.

All these years later, that idea, and the old glory of the Hamilton Stack have combined to create tradition.

The changing of the stack is a regular occurrence.

Everyone in town looks up and sees that the stack has been changed, and knows that St. Patty's Day is right around the corner.

And earlier, in the days before the shamrock went up, hearts and moons danced in the sky side by side. All around in Stanwood there were reminders that February is for lovers.

Will Webb is the guy that makes the changes work. He's fashioned most of the shapes.

Webb is also the guy that pulls on a harness and climbs up into the Hamliton Smokestack.

"Every year it was like, what can we do this year. And now after 20 years, it's like we've got enough. I think we have to scale back a little bit," Webb said laughing.

The guys from the Lions Club have concocted a dizzying array of smoke signals from their stack.

The first was a Christmas tree, the largest piece.

There was also a smokestack soapbox derby car. And before the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, it was a "12."

And on the Fourth of July, they brought the American flag inside the stack and raised it to the top.

It started with an idea and it became a tradition.

And now, for these men, it has evolved into a kind of small-town ritual.

"I also think we saved the stack. Because it was one of those things when people first move up here they go, 'look at that ugly thing up there,'"Joy said.

It's true, some would consider a smokestack to be unsightly thing. A reminder of a dirty time.

But things are what we make them and the boys at the Lions Club in Stanwood decided their smokestack should be a marker that enriches its surroundings with brightly colored badges, lit up reminders of nice things.

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to heroes@komonews.com.

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