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Trashy art: mural adds color to St. Paul Park refuse and recycling business

Tennis Sanitation co-owner Willie Tennis describes one of the four trucks depicted in a mural at their St. Paul Park recycling center. Tennis commissioned the work from artist Richard Hubal. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia.

The story of Tennis Sanitation — which grew from a one-man operation in 1966 to a fleet of over 70 trucks — could fill the side of a building.

Willie Tennis thought so. He and brother Greg co-own the refuse and recycling company in St. Paul Park. It began with a single truck, driven by their father, John, while he worked a full-time job at a meatpacking plant.

They recently expanded their recycling center in the rear of their compound. One long wall faced the staging area where the bright orange Tennis Sanitation trucks came and went throughout the day. Willie Tennis began to think of that wall as a blank canvas.

“I thought, ‘You know, what if we had a mural with our four trucks doing what they do, it would be kind of fun,’” he recalled.

Those four trucks, front-loader, sideloader, roll-off and composter, represent the four pillars of what is now Tennis Sanitation Recycling & Rolloff  — commercial and residential trash pick up, junk hauling and recycling.

Willie Tennis put a call to artist Richard Hubal and explained his idea.

“He was inspired by the one particular wall,” recalled Hubal, who graduated Park High School in 1975. “He just asked if I could take a look.”

Hubal has created over 50 murals for private and commercial businesses around the Twin Cities. He painted two murals on a former gas station at Fourth Street and Broadway Avenue in the city’s business district. The building is owned by Willie and his wife, Linda.

Creating public art has its own challenges, Hubal said. For each commission, he considers the people who have to live with it. He does his homework.

“You talk to the community, no matter what status, to show respect to them so they can show respect to the work,” he said.

He had some suggestions for Willie Tennis: In addition to the four trucks, why not use the mural to acknowledge the communities they serve? How about landmarks along the route that would represent each of the places they served?

Thus, the mural offers the viewer a travelogue of sorts, beginning with Grand Avenue in St. Paul and ending at the historic courthouse in Hastings. Landmarks along the route include the old toll bridge in Inver Grove Heights, the 3M headquarters in Maplewood, the former limestone kiln at Grey Cloud Island, new homes in Woodbury, the Old City Hall in Denmark Township and water towers in Birchfield and Cottage Grove.

The mural also includes an inset picture of the red Dodge Durango pickup that belonged to John Tennis the founder and father of Willie, who died in May at age 83.

“The message actually is a sense of pride Tennis takes in each community that you serve,” Hubal said. “That’s basically what this message is for Willie and the connection of Willie’s father, who started this company a long time ago. That’s quite fantastic when you hear of (his) endurance and how this company has come to this.”

Hubal also works in paintings, relief, sculpture and watercolors. His commissions include the Winter Carnival and Wilebski’s Blues Saloon in St. Paul. Much of what he knows he learned from his grandfather, artist Victor Hubal Sr. He created scenery for vaudeville and silent movies in Chicago. His clients included Ben Turpin, Laurel and Hardy and Arthur Godfrey. He also created sets for the Ice Capades and St. Paul Ballet.

Views of the Tennis Sanitation mural are by appointment only. For more information, call 651-459-1887.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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