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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane messenger sends billboard-sized love letter to Pittsburgh in wake of shooting

John Pogachar stands in front of a billboard on Market St., near Francis Ave. He paid out of his own pocket to put up billboards with the word “LOVE” on them. Photographed Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
John Pogachar stands in front of a billboard on Market St., near Francis Ave. He paid out of his own pocket to put up billboards with the word “LOVE” on them. Photographed Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

John Pogachar doesn’t want a brand name, a hashtag or even a credit. He just wants love – in big, bold white letters on an eye-grabbing red backdrop.

Fitting then, that the 60-year-old retired Nordstrom shoe salesman would pay to plaster the four-letter word across Spokane in the form of two towering billboards overlooking motorists on some of the city’s busiest roads. He plans to erect two more in the Lilac City, and on Tuesday, he received word that his billboard in Pittsburgh had gone up according to plan – his own personal love letter to the victims of October’s deadly synagogue shooting.

“It can mean so many different things,” he said Tuesday morning, staring up from the base of a billboard near the intersection of Francis Avenue and Market Street. “I wanted these where we can get the most views and the most people to see it.”

Pogachar doesn’t pay much attention to the news. Most of the updates he gets from the world at large come in the form of a telephone coaching call with about 50 other people across the nation that he takes every morning within the confines of his South Hill home.

But after hearing about the Oct. 27 massacre, when a man opened fire on a Pittsburgh synagogue killing 11 people while shouting anti-Semitic slurs, he knew he had to get involved.

“What a big hole that has left in the church’s heart,” he said. “And what a big hole left in the city.”

But before his enterprise went national, Pogachar intended only to spread the message in Spokane. It was an idea born from months of coaching conference calls – in which people talk openly about betterment and enlightenment, or as Pogachar puts it, “getting out of your own way.”

First it was just a thought: Why not put love on a billboard, just as an expression and not advertisement? Then it grew. And grew. And before long, Pogachar said it was a nagging proposition seared into the back of his mind.

Then he spent two weeks camping in Kings Canyon National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The idea had a shape and a place.

“For 14 days, I just listened and talked to the trees,” he said. “I think it’s a beautiful idea. It’s love in its purest form.”

With the help of Nick Lewis, owner of Kingsley and Scout clothing store on North Monroe Avenue, Pogachar designed a simple logo, and the first two billboards were erected Monday. One on Market Street and Francis Avenue, the other at Marietta Avenue and Hamilton Street.

Pogachar said another will go up on Cleveland Avenue and Monroe Street on Friday, and the last on Monday at Dishman Mica Road and Eighth Avenue. Each billboard cost $950 for one month, but he said several people in his coaching calls pitched in to help.

On Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after his Market Street billboard had gone up, he’d already met a fan.

“I love it,” said Wanda Clifford, the executive director of Inland Northwest Wildlife Council that shares a parking lot with the sign. “It’s just an amazing statement.”

And now that he has his billboards, and a website to boot, he said he’s sure to keep the campaign going. Where it heads is anyone’s guess.

“I’m just gonna run with this as much as I can,” he said. “I truly believe the coaching calls has allowed me to get out of my way.”

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