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It's the first thing you see as you walk toward Sentinel High School, what some alumni call the "legacy sign."

The sign above the front doors got a makeover over this past year, thanks to Sentinel DECA, Sentinel Art Club, local businesses and alumni. DECA is a student organization centered on marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

It's the largest student organization at Sentinel by far, with about 170 members this school year. Sentinel has about 1,300 students.

Sentinel DECA is also the largest chapter in the state.

Last school year, DECA members started brainstorming what projects they should tackle that year. Principal Ted Fuller pointed to the sign, which had sat atop the school since 1961 and was in bad shape.

"Our original intent was to repaint and refinish it ... to make it more similar to when it was first installed," said DECA president Dylan Haggart. "We found out the neon was not possible so the next step was to involve the art club to do the lettering."

They involved students and local businesses. Then they heard from an alumna.

***

Peggy Williams, a member of Sentinel's Class of 1960, heard about DECA's plan.

She contacted the assistant principal, who contacted Williams' grandson, who contacted Haggart. He reached out to Williams.

Through their conversations and research, they discovered that it wasn't only a sign.

Plans had been in the works to erect a sign on the school, but in 1958, a member of that year's Missoula County High School class drowned: Wayne Howard.

After his death, the classes of 1959 and 1960 decided the money raised for the sign would be done in honor of Howard.

Williams said she had no idea the sign was dedicated to him. After this project, though, she wants to see collaboration between Sentinel and alumni continue.

"It was sad to see it stuck up there," Williams said of the deteriorating sign.

Once DECA's project got underway, Williams enlisted the help of a classmate to raise money to overhaul the sign.

Alden Wright was a computer science professor, so he set up an email list of his classmates. They raised about $1,200. In total, the project cost about $2,000, with the rest from donated materials and labor of local businesses.

Mission Paint donated the paint, Sentinel Art Club did the lettering, J. Barba Painting did the painting, and Paulson Electric installed the LED lights.

"It was not feasible to make it look the way it used to look," said Sentinel marketing teacher and DECA adviser Mark Hartman. "When the computer lab was installed in the library, they needed that extra power. The power source was removed from the roof as the sign had deteriorated."

***

There were about 430 students in Williams and Wright's class. 

The Sentinel building was finished the middle of their freshman year. The three upper classes moved, but the class of 1960 stayed behind, by themselves.

"Our class, because we were left alone at Hellgate, became very close," Williams said.

The sign was finished in July. DECA's success is due to its organization, Haggart and Hartman said. There's the program, curriculum and the school store, Sparta Mart. 

"It's not just a cute little store," Hartman said.

Sparta Mart rakes in $100,000 a year. It's run by 21 student managers and supervisors all day during the school week, at two locations in the school.

"We run it like a business, which includes giving back to the community," Hartman said. 

That's where this project came in.

"It was fun doing something that's not easy to do," Haggart said. "It was a difficult project, but it was worth it."

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