A shining piece of Yankton’s past will soon be rising above another community icon.

The former Kip’s Inn star sign-topper is set to become a permanent fixture at Willert’s Tastee Treet Drive-In on Fourth St.

Mark Bierle, formerly of Yankton, helped to rescue the Neo-Lectra star sign topper that had been a fixture of his childhood from behind the King Dragon Chinese Restaurant which occupies the former Kip’s Inn building along Fourth Street.

“A couple of friends and I were riding motorcycles through Yankton in late July (2018),” Bierle told the Press & Dakotan last year. “I was showing them my house and we parked our motorcycles behind Kip’s and the star was sitting on a pallet in the back of the restaurant. It just kind of broke my heart to see it sitting there.”

After buying the star for $500, Bierle sent it to Love Signs of Norfolk, Nebraska, for restoration and launched a GoFundMe to pay for fixing the star while also soliciting potential locations via social and traditional media. He said that between the GoFundMe campaign and mailed donations, there were 71 total donations raising $4,400.

Last week, Bierle told the Press & Dakotan that the sign topper is — for the most part — once again ready for display.

“They could put it together and it would be done,” he said. “It’s in the corner of a shop taken apart a little bit so they have room to work on another big project, but it’s done.”

He said that it was a smooth process getting the sign back in working order.

“(The restoration) went quite painlessly,” he said. “The folks down at Love Signs in Nebraska have been just great to work with.”

Bierle said it took very little time at all after putting out a call for locations for the perfect one to come out.

“It was a half-hour after (the) article came out in the P&D that I got an email from Dan at Tastee Treet,” he said. “He said he would love to have the star. I kind of started working with him. ... My goal was always to give it to a business that could really help the business, be in a high-traffic area — and you can’t get more high-traffic than 81 and 50. There’s something kind of nostalgic about keeping it on Highway 50, because that’s where Kip’s was and Tastee Treet has been such a long-time business.”

Tastee Treet owner Dan Warren told the Press & Dakotan that he also grew up with the Kip’s star and was impressed with Bierle’s efforts to restore it.

“My history with the sign would be seeing it when I was a kid and eating at Kip’s Inn when I was a young man,” Warren said. “I think it’s great that somebody cares about a little piece of local history, especially somebody who doesn’t want to live here anymore. Quite frankly, I probably would’ve never even given that star another thought until (Bierle) approached me about it.”

He said that he’s already had some experience with revitalizing an old piece of signage — the Tastee Treet Drive-In “ice cream cone” sign — on his property.

“I just restored a sign on top of the building,” he said. “I spent almost ($4,000) on it having the whole thing repainted and having the neon redone. The neon (fixtures) will complement each other real well.”

The old Kip’s Inn sign topper will go on the marquee pole in front of Tastee Treet facing Fourth St. Warren said he’s had discussions with the city and stated there was no issue with its placement there.  

Warren said the star is a piece of Yankton’s history, just like Tastee Treet itself.  

“For those of us that grew up before the internet, local history means something to a lot of us,” he said. “I see it every day down here. I see people coming here with memories of eating here when they were kids. Their parents brought them here. I still see couples that have been married 40-50 years, ‘We took our first date here.’ I hear that kind of stuff all the time. This place is a piece of local history.”

Bierle said he’s impressed with how fast the process has been from discovery to the star’s re-lighting.

“My amazement is it’s all gotten done in a year,” he said. “It’ll be like a year and three weeks from the time we saw it in the alley until the time it’s back up and running.”

He added that the intent is to recognize those donors who helped the project happen.

“There will be a plaque, probably mounted on the pole, with the names of anybody that gave $50 or more,” he said. “We’re looking forward to recognizing those folks for a good long time. There will be some recognition on the plaque of the fact that this was the star from Kip’s Inn.”

Bierle said there’s plans in place for relighting the old sign.

“We hope to do it Friday night of Riverboat Days,” he said. “I’m coming down with two of the guys that were with me last year when we found it in the alley. It will be put up at the Tastee Treet the week before.”

Warren said he expects the sign-topper to get people talking.

“I think it’ll generate some conversation, especially with the 40-year-old plus crowd,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s really necessarily going to improve my business any, but it definitely will stir up some conversation. Anytime people are talking about your business, that’s a good thing.”

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