O’NEALS — Anyone who travels on Road 200 in the O’Neals area has gotten a good laugh, a moment of “Aaah, isn’t that sweet,” or has turned around to go back for pictures of the little Minions in the field at Ryan and Staci Smith’s house near Ponderosa Telephone.
The Minions — or Sminions, as the Smith’s have dubbed them — started showing their adorable little faces in the horse pasture about two years ago, in celebration of neighbor Taylor Bigelow’s 7th birthday. The labor of love has taken on a life of its own since then, showing up on Facebook pages across the country and inspiring others to request Sminions of their own.
“We just started with one out there, just waving at people,” says Ryan. “Then we added another with a sign for Taylor’s birthday party. Now, if I had a dollar for everyone who’s stopped and taken a picture, I’d be a wealthy man!”
Ryan says he started with a couple old pressure tanks that had been lying around, and now, most of the tanks he uses to create the little group of Sminions are donated by a local businessman.
This has become a family affair, with Ryan painting the tanks, Staci making the signs and costumes, and little Tyler — and now baby Rylynn — overseeing the process.
The Smiths have created scenes for Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween — where their spooky display was complete with grave markers for “Jake O’ Lantern,” “John Doe,” “Mr. Bone,” and one poor unfortunate who was “bitten by a snake.”
One of their favorites was a Christmas nativity scene, made even more realistic by the horses and sheep grazing next to a baby Sminion lying in the manger.
The delightful displays have inspired some to request set-ups of their own. Earlier this year, local resident Bill Dodge left a letter on the Smith’s gate, asking for a special Sminion message for his wife Mary as they celebrated 42 years of wedded bliss. One North Fork woman has “commissioned” a Sminion for her front yard. Another wanted to say happy birthday to her husband, and left money in an envelope.
But perhaps the one at the top of the favorites list was the proposal. Though Ryan can’t recall their names, we know for sure that the now bride-to-be’s name is Chrissy.
Travelers along Road 200 in January were greeted with the sight of the Sminions holding a big sign that asked the question, “Will you marry me?”
The happy couple returned later to pose with the little group of adorable tank-persons, and let everyone know that “She said yes!”
The Smiths have donated several of their creations for fundraisers, including an FFA project and a senior legacy project at Minarets High School. They will be creating a display for the North Fork Women’s Club Chili Cookoff, so people can be watching for that one in the upcoming months.
Ryan was born and raised in O’Neals, and he and Staci, both 37, live near his mom who purchased the property in 1972.
The Smith’s welcomed baby Rylynn on Mar. 11 of this year, and she joins brother Tyler, now 16 months, as the little pink Sminion in the pasture.
Ryan and Staci say that people often stop for photos of the Sminions, and they are delighted that their efforts bring smiles and happiness to so many. They do caution, however, that parents should not hand their kids over the fence for photos with the little group, because there is livestock in the pasture, including a wild mustang, and they don’t want anyone getting hurt.
For those who have requested personal displays, the Smiths do this when they can, at no charge. Some folks do, however, offer up a donation which is gratefully accepted and used to cover medical costs for Staci. She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which flared up after her pregnancy, says Ryan.
“Staci has a lot of expenses, traveling to San Francisco for treatment, doctor’s appointments and medication,” says Ryan. “Any donations we’ve received have gone to help with those expenses.”
But the driving force behind the whole Sminions project is seeing the joy it brings to passers-by. The family is always trying to come up with something different to make people laugh.
“We love doing it for the community and the people, and especially for the kids,” says Ryan. “People stop by while we’re changing them out, others honk and wave. We love it!”
(Photos provided by the Smith family, featured photo by Gina Clugston)