By SARA ARTHURS
McCOMB — A panther looms, on the prowl, claws outstretched, on the wall of a downtown McComb business. Its eyes seem to gleam and its whiskers bristle.
Smaller examples of the McComb School mascot adorn the gymnasium and weight room at the high school, along with another pair of shining panther eyes. In the elementary school, cheerful animals are at work and at play amid inspirational sayings. And at the McComb Public Library, a young girl sits reading. Behind her can be seen a sailing ship under a rainbow, a hot air balloon, far-off planets, a castle.
They’re all the work of McComb artist Silvio Jimenez, who was killed in a car accident on Sunday, three days before his 46th birthday. His death has left the small village reeling.
Over and over, McComb residents used words like “visionary” to describe Jimenez, and “godly” in mentioning his deep faith. They spoke of his talent, but also of his passion for the community.
Heart and Soul
Jimenez opened his studio to area children so they could learn about art. He was also part of the village’s “Heart and Soul” team which sought to revitalize and build the community; build bridges between McComb, Hoytville and surrounding townships; and decide what happens next regarding the future of the region.
Heart and Soul Project Coordinator Joe Wasson said when he first met Jimenez, “I knew he was something special.”
He said Jimenez was at first hesitant to join Heart and Soul, but Wasson thought he would be a “great addition to the team.” Wasson told Jimenez what an asset he would be and how powerful his message was.
“He jumped in with both feet. … His heart was as big as anybody’s heart,” Wasson said.
Library director Jane Schaffner was also involved with Heart and Soul. She said Jimenez, as an outsider who had married into a McComb family, had “such a refreshing, different perspective of what McComb was.”
Jimenez, born and raised in Mexico, met his wife, Melinda, while living in Texas. Since moving to Ohio he has painted murals throughout the region — not only in McComb and Findlay but Toledo, Marion, Cincinnati and Michigan. On New Year’s Eve he posted on Facebook that in 2018, he celebrated 30 years of being a painter.
Schaffner said Jimenez was a regular library patron for years, and always had a smile on his face when he walked in the door.
“I never saw him in a bad mood,” she said.
Jimenez had suggested painting a mural at the library in 2009. But with the economy then in decline and libraries facing budget cuts, Schaffner told him they simply couldn’t afford it. He offered to do the project for the cost of the paint.
The finished project depicts Jimenez’ daughter, Catalina, then a toddler, reading a book. Look closer and tiny details become apparent — the rigging of the ship sailing behind her, the nuances on the small butterflies fluttering not far away. And the mural is actually, when all three dimensions are considered, a book. Perpendicular to the main painting is a spine on one side, and pages on another.
Wasson noted that Jimenez was a self-taught artist, and that his work was “just phenomenal.” In McComb, Jimenez has created several works “that I know will be here for an awful, awful long time.”
‘The spirit of McComb’
Sheri Davis and Debra Abbott are among the leaders of the “Spirit Squad,” which decorates downtown around the start of the school year to support the McComb High School football team. Davis has also known Melinda since they were classmates at McComb High School.
The panther Jimenez painted on the walls of Primrose Flowers and Gifts on Main Street last fall grew out of the Spirit Squad effort. Jimenez had previously painted a panther on the street, which wore away over time.
Abbott said they had discussed painting the panther on a corner of the building, but Jimenez noted that if it was in the middle, “we could go big.”
Davis said they weren’t sure they could afford the project, but they prayed about it — and received $1,700, within an hour, which was then surpassed by other donations.
Creating the panther took about six weeks. Abbott rode the lift up with Jimenez one day while he was painting, and got to see up close how detailed the mural is.
“To be face to face with the eyes, the nose — it’s amazing,” she said.
Davis said Jimenez would talk about the panther as “the spirit of McComb.”
McComb is “a big football town,” Abbott noted. After the team won the state championship game on Dec. 1, Abbott ran into Jimenez and they talked about the “power of the panther.”
Davis said her son, who is on the football team, told her the students love the mural.
Abbott, who noted “it’s huge,” said as she passes the panther downtown, “I’m in awe of it, every time.”
Primrose Flowers and Gifts’ owner Ed Aller said people come into his shop and ask “Who did that?” He’d say, “Silvio, down the street, did that.”
Aller said Jimenez brought “a lot of light and inspiration” to the community’s children.
“He thought big,” he said. “He had a heart of gold.”
Aller said Jimenez had a “good love for the Lord” and he knows he is now in a good place.
“Of course, our hearts are broken that he’s there,” Aller said.
And he said others around Jimenez couldn’t help but feel calm “and I guess somewhat secure. … He just had that calming effect.”
Abbott described Jimenez as “such a soft-spoken man — and always filled with love.”
Davis said Jimenez will be remembered for his gentle spirit and “the love that he had for everybody.” And she’ll remember his smile.
“Silvio did not know a stranger,” Wasson said.
‘For the kids’
In the elementary school portion of McComb School, a mural stretches over several walls, created along the theme of the “Leader in Me” leadership program.
The mural includes sayings to motivate children such as “PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST. Work First Then Play.” and “BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND. Have a Plan.”
This mural also depicts a sprawling tree, and a host of cheerful animals. A cartoon bear holds what appears to be a butterfly net. A skunk, wearing a purple skirt, a shirt with a heart and a hat with a flower in the brim, carries a paintbrush. A smiling worm peeks out from the earth below her feet. (“He always slides a panther in,” Abbott said.)
Teacher Sarah Simons said the children “absolutely love them.”
Simons said Jimenez had earlier painted some positive sayings on the bathroom walls. He painted what was requested, but added his own flair. In one restroom he painted the saying “It’s cool to be kind,” and decided to put sunglasses on the word “Cool.” (Abbott noted that he himself often wore sunglasses.)
When the Leader in Me project came up, it was a “no brainer” that Jimenez would be the one to do it, Simons said.
The mural is on the first floor, where the kindergarten through second-grade students go to class. Plans were in the works to create a mural on the second floor, where the upper grades study.
Simons said Jimenez, “a very humble person,” was complimented a million times but always said, “It’s for the kids.”
Peggy Dukes, who works at the McComb Emporium, next door to Jimenez’ art studio, said he was “a wonderful Christian” who “didn’t hesitate to tell people about God.” She said Jimenez was “really nice about it,” never pushy, but was eager to share his faith. Many of his paintings had a connection to his faith, too.
She recalled Jimenez praying with her and her husband when her husband was in the hospital.
She said he would come over from next door and visit the Emporium, always with “such a pleasant smile.” He always called her “Mrs. Peggy.”
And, she said, he was devoted to his daughters.
Aller, too, said Jimenez’ priorities were God and his family.
Love from Mexico
The Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation posted a video this week about Jimenez. In his own words, he states, “I paint what I see, what I believe and what I feel.”
The video includes footage of Jimenez guiding young people in creating art.
And he said sometimes people come from out of town and ask what he was doing in McComb, as “you need to be in a big city like Cincinnati or Cleveland or somewhere.” But, he said, he was called to be in McComb, and has faith that God can build a bridge, “through art, to reach people from other towns.”
Friends have left posts on Jimenez’ own Facebook page, some of which have received more than 100 comments. They’ve mentioned his talent, and that he prayed for and with them.
Family members in Mexico have also left comments, including one comment (written in Spanish and translated through Facebook) which thanks the “friends and brothers in faith” of McComb for their love and affection for Jimenez.
Several friends spoke about coming into Jimenez’ studio when he was playing piano. It was, Wasson said, something he did to relieve stress on his fingers after painting.
Wasson said the people of McComb intend to keep Jimenez’ legacy alive.
“Every one of his paintings told a story. … And the stories all came out of his heart,” Wasson said.
He said, too, “I know where Silvio’s at today. And I know that he is looking down on us, and … he’s got a smile from ear to ear.”
Jimenez is survived by his wife, Melinda, and two young daughters. Friends are working to raise funds to help the family. The Silvio Jimenez Memorial Fund has been established at First Federal Bank, and a GoFundMe page has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/silvio-jimenez-family-blessing .