Ron Bilyeu spent more than four decades painting signs for businesses in Christian County. He’s been officially retired for 20 years, but his latest work hangs prominently on the wall of a celebrated Ozark business.
Bilyeu, 85, was a guest of honor at a ribbon cutting celebration Feb. 7 for Mitchum Jewelers, which more than doubled the store’s square footage from 2,700 square feet to about 5,500 square feet. A clock, surrounded by a neon green halo, welcomes everyone who walks through the entrance.
The other side, encircled in its original red neon, will soon hang at the Christian County Museum and Historical Society in downtown Ozark, just up the block on Elm Street from where it stood in the 1960s.
Bilyeu owned and operated Ozark Sign Service for 42 years, and John Mitchum hired him to paint the signs adorning the clock in 1966. In 2018, Mitchum hired Bilyeu again to repaint the clock.
“I was willing to do it. I told John, ‘I’m retired. I don’t know how steady my hand is anymore,’ but we got it done,” Bilyeu said.
Bilyeu said he was “a little rusty,” but managed to paint the signs in a style authentic to the period.
“John wanted it to look a little aged, you know? I think I managed to pull that off. It looks like it’s faded a little bit, that’s the way he wanted it,” Bilyeu said.
Bilyeu grew up in Christian County and says he spent his life there, except for a couple of years of service in the Army. He is proud to take part in restoring both sides of the clock.
“I may not be around to redo it in 50 years, but somebody will do it,” Bilyeu said.
With one side of the old clock hanging in the store, the Mitchum family presented the other side of the clock to the Christian County Museum. Christian County Historical Society Vice President John Nixon recalls that the old clock was in the former museum property on church street when John Mitchum approached him about restoring it.
“It was in the basement of the museum. We just didn’t have a place to hang it and didn’t know if it worked or not,” Nixon said. “(John) Mitchum came to me and said, ‘I’d like to see that clock,’ so we went down and looked at it.”
The museum has since moved south across the square to Elm Street, where there is more open wall space. With Bilyeu hired to paint the clock and fabricate some new parts, Mitchum Jewelers owner Randy Mitchum looked on as his father helped fix the old electric clock.
“My dad, being the watchmaker, got to restore and refurbish the clock himself,” Randy Mitchum said.
Christian County Historical Society President Shannon Mawhiney said the refurbished half of the clock will soon be given a place of prominence in the museum.
“We’re really happy with the support the Mitchum family has given the historical society and the museum, and it’s really exciting to have something that’s stayed here in the community. Now it looks the same as it did then, and we can get it hung up and it will be a good eye draw with the neon. It’s so cool,” Mawhiney said.
Christian County Historical Society Treasurer Linda Myers added that some of the original jewelry cases from Mitchum Jewelers are now in use at the museum, thanks to another donation from the Mitchum family.