By Sandy Arpen
Since 2015, people have been talking about the colorful concrete frogs placed along the roadways in Mandarin. These frogs are noticed by children riding to school, by bicyclists and walkers who pass by them and by passengers in cars who are hurrying on to their next stop. And they all wonder, “Where are these frogs coming from?”
Here’s the story behind this community mystery. Mandarin’s “Frog Man” (he does not wish to be identified by name), was walking through Walter Jones Historical Park one day and he noticed the huge stump of an old oak tree that had blown down during a storm. The stump looked lonely to him — he thought it “just needed something on it.” That’s when he thought of making a frog for it. And so it began.
The Frog Man was born and raised in Mandarin and his deep family roots here run all the way back to 1785. His memories of childhood included riding his bicycle all over Mandarin, so he knows the roads like the back of his hand. He worked hard in his family’s business until his retirement several years ago.
He had acquired a frog mold after seeing an ad in a magazine at the old Lou’s Barbershop in 1987. The ad stated, “Turn concrete into gold!” He thought they were pretty cute, so he decided to order a mold to make some decorative frogs for the fountain he built in his front yard. He continued to periodically make frogs for family and friends, but never dreamed that in the future he would make 1100 frogs in a year’s time.
He did, in fact, make a frog for that big stump at Walter Jones Historical Park and he placed it there. He noticed people having their photos taken with the frog and enjoying it — so he just started placing them here and there in public areas on some of Mandarin’s back roads.
At around that same time, the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society held a yard sale to raise money for the 1898 St. Joseph’s Mission Schoolhouse for African-American Children restoration project. The Frog Man donated some frogs to help the cause and then donated more frogs to sell in the museum’s gift shop. The frogs quickly became a phenomenal hit and people started coming every week, excited to pick out their own frogs. They were so popular that he had a hard time keeping up production, as it takes hours to mold and paint each one.
The Frog Man says that this was all something that “just happened.” He never intended to make a thousand frogs or to ever sell them. His only goal was to “perk people up and make them smile” during a time when there “was a lot of bad stuff going on in the world.” His frogs have certainly done that, and much more.
One thing led to another and soon the Mandarin Museum was hosting monthly Frog Painting events, with children painting their own frogs and taking them home, happy and proud of their artistic expressions.
This gentleman has met that advertisement’s promise — he has turned concrete into gold — for the Mandarin Museum. Every single dollar raised on the sale of these frogs goes directly to the support of the museum’s programs and activities which are free and open to the public. In this way he actually gives a gift to the community through helping the museum. The Mandarin Museum & Historical Society is exceedingly grateful to him. He is a generous man with a big heart and a love for his roots here in Mandarin. And the icing on the cake is that he says he “has never had as much fun as he has had in the last year.”
To purchase a painted frog, come to the Mandarin Museum, 11964 Mandarin Road, on Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. or call (904) 268-0784 for more information. Sandy Arpen is president of the board of directors of the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society.
Photo courtesy Sandy Arpen
A line up of frogs to be painted at Mandarin Museum.