Hillbilly Needlepoint

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Verona High School’s athletes have an unusual nickname and, for many years, they had an unusual mascot: An ill-clad hillbilly reclining with a rifle and a jug of moonshine. The logo has been on t-shirts, sports gear and banners, and now you can get it on needlepoint canvas, thanks to a member of the VHS Class of 1974.

Karl Schill, known as Otto to his classmates back in the day, didn’t set out to be a needlepoint artist. In fact, he didn’t set out to be an artist at all. “My mother was very talented, my father was a musician, and my grandfather was an artist,” he says. “Talent skipped me.”

Or so he thought. After Schill retired from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s municipal engineering department, he began to pay more attention to his wife’s needlepoint habit, and discovered how expensive the hand-painted canvases can be. He began to think that he might be able to paint some designs, and started experimenting. Before long, his work had caught the attention of Rittenhouse Needlepoint, the preeminent needle arts shop in Philadelphia, and Needlepoint Junction, a similarly upscale shop in Hilton Head, South Carolina. He’s got repeat customers in New York City and New York state, and two big notebooks full of designs.

“It’s fun,” Schill says. “More of a hobby than a job.” Schill markets his work as OKS Designs Needlepoint on Facebook and Instagram.

Schill has rediscovered music too

His artwork might have been mostly hearts and flowers, but when he and his wife were packing up to downsize, Schill found his high school yearbook. He attended VHS during the heyday of the gun-and-jug Hillbilly logo, which first appeared at VHS in 1968. (Legend has it that Verona athletes were dubbed “Hillbillies” in the 1940s by Montclair High School rivals, who deemed them “over the hill.”)

Schill discovered that there is a needlepoint shop in Verona, and called to ask if they already carried a canvas with the hillbilly logo. They didn’t, and before long, Schill created one and sent it in.

A needlepoint eyeglass case

“We thought it might be a fun thing for a Verona mom to do,” says Anne Marie Cannella, the owner of Beyond Knits and Needles. “He did a nice job on it.” Cannella, who moved her store to 450 Bloomfield Avenue in Verona from Caldwell in October 2022, has all the yarn needed to complete the 12 x 12 canvas, in several shades of maroon. She can also assist with finishing the canvas into a pillow top. “A lady was in today,” Cannella said on Wednesday, “and said Oh, that’s the old logo.”

Canvas-painting isn’t Schill’s only hobby. After his brother Walter died in 2018, Schill discovered his father’s cello in his brother’s house. He had it cleaned and restrung, and he is now taking lessons.

While there are computer programs to plan and paint a canvas, Schill does his the old-fashioned way, by hand, over the course of a few days. “I like to experiment on the canvas,” he says. “Then I put it on the computer.” He doesn’t, however, render any of his designs in yarn. “Don’t ask me about needlepointing,” Schill says. “My wife keeps telling me I need to learn to stitch.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I moved here to Verona about 7 years ago. As a new family moving from the city to the suburbs, one of the things that weighted on us was seeing the Hillbillies sign all over the lawns of several Verona homes. It was hard for us to leave the diversity of the city for a small town life, but we wanted our son to be raised in a home with a backyard and a good school system. Seeing that the highschool mascot was a hillbilly was really deflating. The term hillbilly is usually equated with the words “ignorance” and “closed-mindedness”, which is opposite of what you want a school to represent. It made me think that maybe we made a mistake buying a home in an area that seemed to represent that kind of ideology. Afterall, we are minorities in this town and don’t want to feel unwelcome in a place that uses a derogatory term with pride to reflect their youngest minds. It made us think that maybe Verona has not evolved with the times. My husband and I decided we’d let it be a problem for another day since our son was only 3 at the time, and it would be a while before he starts high-school. We have been hoping that with new, young families moving into town, that maybe there would be a push to change the mascot into something that isn’t crass and offensive, but shows strength, resilience and intelligence. I’ve heard that there are many families that agree with this, but that it’s such a hot topic button and gets shut down immediately. I know many people feel strongly about the legacy of the mascot and don’t want it changed, but isn’t the future more important than a legacy? I’m thinking this individual should have left the old logo behind in the attic, back in time where it belongs. This Verona mom will most definitely NOT be stitching something on her pillow that is no longer an accurate representation of our town and its current occupants.

  2. I agree that it is a silly mascot, and certainly not politically correct. But I graduated in 1974 and you’d probably be equally shocked
    by the song we sang….”We are hillbillies born, we are hillbillies bred, and we’re going to be hillbillies dead, so Rah rah Verona – rona,
    rah rah Verona-rona rah rah Verona High!” Pretty ghastly. true life! You can’t make this stuff up. At the time, in my high school mind, I just viewed it as a big joke. I think a newer logo of the same hillbilly removes the gun and jug and gives him a fishing pole. Not sure though.
    Good luck with your crusade, there are certainly better logos. Here in Deer Isle, ME we are the Mariners. The neighboring town went the “strong animal” route and they are the Bobcats. You may have to wait for all of the old hillbillies to expire! It’s a silly nostalgia to us.

  3. Even in high school I thought the name was dreadful and the logo even worse. Time has not made me any fonder of either.

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