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Iola Car Show returns with an emotional unveiling

The iconic Iola Car Show kicks off Thursday and goes through the weekend. People travel from all over the world to experience what the event has to offer.
Iola Car Show returns with an emotional sign unveiling
Posted at 4:00 AM, Jul 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-06 10:52:43-04

The Iola Car Show kicks off Thursday, and we're getting an up-close look at this year's festivities before drivers start their engines.

"To me it was special, and for my family it's special," Ronald Hardel said.

Ford fanatic and retired Waupaca Foundry worker Ronald Hardel has been coming to the Iola Car show for decades, but this year's event will be different after the community unveiled a new welcome sign with his recently restored 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 with a Cobra Jet engine as the focal point.

Community unveils new welcome sign

"It was just really mind-boggling. I just thought, "man, my car is on that picture that how many people are going to see." I felt very honored that he used my car," Hardel said.

"The feeling is indescribable. This project in particular with Ron is a perfect example of that. You can see the emotion and the happiness and the shock and the joy that this brought to him, and that's what it's all about," said Iola Car Show Executive Director Joe Opperman.

Opperman said the event is so much more than entertainment, including monster trucks and celebrity guests like Jerry Mathers and Dennis Anderson.

"But, really what we are selling are memories. People come together from ages 8 to 80, and they enjoy this thing together," Opperman said.

This community of just 1,200 people will grow to more than 120,000 the week of the event. Opperman says it allows people to put their differences aside, welcoming people from all around the world, especially with this locally-inspired sign.

"We live in a world today that is very polarized. There's a lot of things that separate people, and when you walk through these gates that stuff is gone. Everybody is here and focused on physically spending time together, enjoying things they have in common, and we are not battling about our differences, and that is a priceless thing. It's the closest thing to time travel that you could buy," Opperman said.

As for attendees like Ron Hardel and his family, this year's show will be especially different, with his iconic Mustang welcoming visitors from all around.

"Thanks to my wife — she isn't here anymore, but that's how I got it fixed. She said, "if you don't do something with that car pretty soon, you and I are both going to be dead, and that car is still going to be sitting there,"" Hardel said.

Hardel says he feels honored and was completely surprised by the unveiling, and he hopes everyone enjoys the new sign as much as him.

"Joe had asked me one day if I could bring my car up here to take some pictures. So, I brought it up here, and he did, and I didn't realize it was what was on that billboard was a picture of my car, until he revealed it to me a day or two ago. That was pretty special," Hardel said.

Opperman says there are more than a dozen local nuggets featured in the new welcome sign community members will enjoy — you just need to look closely.

As for the community, it's not built for the amount of people visiting this week.So, they encourage people to be patient when traveling to Iola, and they say the wait getting into town will be well worth it.