'God is Love' sign needs a miracle

10:11 AM, Jan 23, 2013   |    comments
The neon God Is Love sign is in disrepair and its future uncertain. Photo courtesy Michael Braun/news-press.com
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Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) -- The God Is Love sign, a sentinel of faith along McGregor Boulevard since 1943, has withstood weather, traffic, threats of removal and various homeowners.

But now, with 1402 S. Grove St. in foreclosure and with Florida Power & Light planning to turn off the power, the green neon sign on the corner of that property has an uncertain future.

Sherry Rydberg of Fort Myers has owned the home since 1996. Financial issues have made it impossible for her to continue to own the house, she said.

"It has been a long, drawn-out process," Rydberg explained.

She said the sign has had electrical problems for some time and that she tried seeking donated electrical work and then offering to pay for repairs, both to no avail.

"The other challenge is that the power is controlled by a timer in the house," she said.

Rydberg said she was giving the house back to whatever bank now holds the mortgage - four lenders have held the mortgage in the past four years she said - and walking away.

"I paid to keep the sign lit for that entire time. I understand the importance of the sign, but I just can't afford to pay for it," she said.

"That's been my dilemma. It has been hard to walk away," Rydberg said. She added that she just could not keep up with everything that needed to be done with the house, let alone the sign.

She said she has called FPL and told them to close the account.

Bud Fraga, a spokesman for FPL, said the home's account is now listed as inactive.

"That means the customer has reassigned the account to a new location," Fraga said. He added that there is no customer on record for that address now and that service for the entire house will be disconnected, though he could not say when.

Fraga said that disconnect order could be halted if a new owner or customer moves in.

Lee County Property Appraiser records say the house is assessed at $114,776, and Rydberg bought the home in 1996 for $165,000.

A 2006 photo of the house on the appraiser site shows a tidy, brightly-painted home and manicured lawn. Currently, the grounds of the 1925-era house are weed-choked, a pool in the fenced backyard built in 2003 is green with algae and the outside facade of the house is streaked with dirt and algae.

David Skrobarcek of Fort Myers, Rydberg's ex-husband, said that even though the house has its problems it could probably be fixed up for about $40,000 to $50,000.

"There are leaks in the roof and parts of the ceiling have come down," he said.

Skrobarcek, who lived in the home off and on until about six months ago, said that during that time the sign had been shot at by paintball and real guns, and beer bottles were almost always found at the base.

"Somebody had put bulletproof glass on the sign, so the shots didn't hurt it," he said, adding that the sign was last lit up about nine months ago and thinks it could be the ballast, which controls the electrical current, has gone bad.

Skrobarcek added that a member of First Assembly of God Church on Summerlin Road has expressed interest in getting the sign back in shape.

That member, Doug Ford of Fort Myers, said he had hoped to stir interest in the sign among church members and the public.

"I had hoped to maybe generate some money to rebuild the sign," he said. Ford, maintenance operations manager at Val Ward Cadillac, added that he was even willing to repair it and might even be interested in buying the home at some point.

This isn't the first time the sign has had to be resurrected.

In 2002 an anonymous group donated time and money to get the green neon glowing again after it was dark for more than a month.

A story at that time in The News-Press said the group responsible for repairs to the sign decided to remain anonymous, as stated in a letter faxed to The News-Press on March 5, 2002.

The letter said that the sign was cleaned, rewired and repainted, and the neon and a plastic cover were replaced.

Doug St. Cerny, who was a Lee County commissioner at that time, said he remembers that a citizens group came together to repair the sign.

"It would be a shame if it went away forever," St. Cerny said Tuesday. "It is the charm of the neighborhood."

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