Body Borneman Bear - Walking
Bear Fever artist
for both Body-Borneman Insurance’s “Box” bear
and “Kenny,” Ken Ellis’s
Legion Bear, Doug Davidheiser started
in his art and sign painting business
thanks to Bill Ellis painting cars @1970.
Davidheiser went “all out” for
his friend Ralph Borneman by totally refashioning
a Bear Fever walking bear. Doug took his
saw to 3 legs and the head, added 4 gallons
of putty, and created a unique bear for
the project. “Box” sports Ralph’s
high school number 14 and stands tall
for now in front of the Body-Borneman
office on Philadelphia Avenue in Boyertown.
- Doug Davidheiser
Gilbertsville, PA 19525
Teacher for 35 years in Reading
Proprietor Douglas Sign Company
- Body-Borneman Insurance
17 East Philadelphia Avenue
Boyertown, PA 19512
About the Sponsor
Arriving at Body-Borneman Insurance officewith my co-interviewer, Sam, I was feeling quite nervous and wasn’t looking forward to having reluctantly sophisticated conversations with professionals armed with briefcases and ties. However, the initial words of Mr. Ralph Borneman, sponsor of the Body-Borneman football bear, put me more at ease. “Mr. Borneman is my grandfather,” he said. “But if you’re looking for Ralph, then, yes, that’s me.” It was at that point I knew that the twenty-minute interview awaiting me when I stepped into the conference room would be rather amusing.
In his younger days (or from what he can remember of them), Ralph was a normal kid who did “normal kid things .” He liked playing many sports, but it was his interest in football that led him to attend Muhlenb erg College and play on their football team. Although injury prevented Ralph from coming back to the field as a player, he returned after graduation - this time on the sidelines as a coach . He remained an English teacher at Boyertown High School for a while, but eventually switched over to the corporate world.
Today, Ralph, along with Mr. Howard E. Body, manages Body-Borneman Insurance in central Boyertown. Despite having left so many things in his past behind, he still remains friends with Doug Davidheiser, who used to be one of his players.
Ralph told me he had always admired Doug’s artistic work, and that’s why, when he received news of the Bear Fever project, he gave Doug a call. He explained the project to Doug, but was very vague about his expectations. “I didn’t want to give him too many limitations because as an artist he needs that space. Plus, I knew whatever he made for me would be amazing.”
That phone call put the bear completely in Doug’s hands. Although most may have got apprehensive at the thought of someone totally dismantling such a costly bear, Ralph never doubted Doug’s abilities. He didn’t want to be bothered or updated with details of the bear, and he didn’t even see it until Doug’s work was completely finished. When the bear finally was revealed to Ralph, he was astonished. “It turned out so much better than I thought,” he said nodding. “I’m really proud of it. That guy (meaning Doug) really can do anything.”
As the interview concluded, we talked about the other bears around Boyertown and which ones were our favorites. Ralph said he thought all of them looked great, and especially liked the one across the street at the dentist office. However, like Doug, he showed some disappointment in the number of student-contributed help, but still thinks that Bear Fever is a great community project. Before we left, Ralph showed us some pictures of the bear mid-construction. While looking at the progression of the photos showing the bear with four legs, then three, then two, and then being beheaded, the only thing that ran through my mind was “talk about trust!”
After a final handshake with Ralph and a goodbye to the secretary, we were out the door. Upon exiting, and being the gossiping girls that we are, we exploded in discussion about the interview and how it went so much better than expected. We both thought it was really fun and enjoyed getting to know such a character. The experience led me to think about my own future - not in terms or education of family or even profession. All of that stuff I’ll figure out later, but for now the only thing I am hoping for is a future boss who’s as cool as Ralph. ~Jody Dolansky
About the Artist
Meeting Doug Davidheiser, known as “Peanut” to his oldest friends, taught me a thing or two. I never thought of sign painters as artists; I thought of them primarily as businessmen. Now I know better. Doug Davidheiser has been involved in the arts his whole life. As a child he shaped his creativity by painting toy cars; and as he grew older, he painted his friends’ cars. He was good, but never had the best equipment.
In high school he only dabbled in art classes but was always impressed with Boyertown’s art department. He remembers Mr. Gerhart as one of his best art teachers and was inspired by the work of classmate Linda (Rohrbach) Austerberry.
His fulltime hobbies in high school revolved around sports—particularly diving, swimming and gymnastics. In fact, his association with Mr. Ralph Borneman began during his years as an athlete at Boyertown High School. Mr. Borneman was his varsity football coach. They’ve been friends ever since.
While no one was watching, he practiced dancing in front of the mirror while American Bandstand was on and impressed all the girls at junior high dances.
At college his art interest was furthered because his roommate was an art major and Doug often completed his projects for him. Plus, he worked on a friend’s race car and that’s when he knew he had a gift for lettering.
But his major in college led him to a 35-year career in teaching physical education at Reading Middle School which he enjoyed until the end. During his last years he felt the kids’ attitudes prohibited them from excelling which he found discouraging.
While teaching, however, Doug kept his art skills alive by maintaining a small sign painting business specializing in signs for real estate. He tried to stay small at first but his business grew quickly through referrals. He became more and more skilled with each job and learned techniques like pinstriping, gold leafing, and silk screening. He holds the title of being the first in Boyertown to do work in vinyl. He gives credit to one of his friends who discovered this new technology while on vacation in Germany.
He’s very happy in his business working by himself and enjoys the niche he’s created in the sign painting world in Boyertown. He takes some pride in his home—its history and in its purchase—and the barn he built to house his business. It’s huge!
Doug’s bear is unique in the Bear Fever collection; it is the only one standing on two legs. Doug was determined to make it the best bear; and it took 4 gallons of body putty, 415 rivets to hold the inner section together, and a lot of courage to cut 3 legs and the head completely off a $1400 Bear Fever walking bear to fashion the image of a football quarterback in a Heisman Trophy position.
Doug had his bear “on the brain” everywhere he went. He found the perfect sized lug nuts at a truck stop that he used for the cleats. He found felt from Home Depot for the paws.
Doug used as his model for the football player his high school hero and coach Ralph Borneman and gave the bear Ralph’s number #14 and Ralph’s nickname “Box.” Ralph earned this nickname as a young boy when he was known to throw things into railroad box cars as they passed. (Once a quarterback, always a quarterback!)
One of the reasons Doug believes that his bear turned out so well is that Ralph supported his efforts totally and spared no expense; Doug was given a generous budget.
Doug also completed Ken Ellis’s Bear Stadium Bear but is not happy with the results and insists “Kenny” will be totally refashioned into a catcher position for the spring of 2006. And once again the bear will need to be chopped apart to achieve the effect Doug has in mind.
While Doug is a fan of the Bear Fever project, he was disappointed that students were not around during the bear’s creation. He said, “They could have learned so much! We had to figure out how to make things work at every step; but we kept at it and didn’t quit, and I’m pleased with how “Box” turned out. It would have been a great learning experience.”
“This bear is a perfect example of how I learned: through my mistakes, working through setbacks and problems and insisting on producing only quality work,” he explained. Doug ended our interview with a surprising statement. He doesn’t see himself as an artist, but I certainly do. And he taught me a lot. ~Jody Dolansky