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Working with his hands, giving with his heart

Jeff Cahill took a vacation to Colorado in 1975. Six months later, the New Jersey native decided it was time to move out West. Cahill said he was drawn to Colorado’s blue sky, wide-open spaces and clean air.”New Jersey was an accident of birth, and Colorado was a conscious choice,” he said.While vacationing in Colorado, Cahill was impressed with the sign graphics displayed in the area. He said the signage, with more color and progressive layouts, was different from that found on the East Coast. He said he saw no potential to become creative out East.”Coming out here was a breath of fresh air,” Cahill said. “There was a whole different attitude.”A drive to manufacture high-quality signs prompted Cahill to open his business, Quality Signs & Designs, in 1976. Cahill said his first customers were transplants from big cities like St. Louis, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles – big vendors that wanted quality signs.After working for sign makers in New Jersey and Colorado Springs, Cahill decided it was time to branch out on his own. “The only way to control the quality and style was to work on my own,” he said.Cahill’s passion for sign making started long before he opened his business. He began restoring cars at his first job at a gas station. There, he began learning bodywork and detailing. “I was car crazy,” he said. “I used to jump start my dad’s car at two o’clock in the morning – and joy ride.” After a couple of run-ins with the law, he said his dad took away the cars.After joining the U.S. Navy, Cahill was further exposed to lettering. He said he developed his skills working on banners, plaques and other lettering assignments with crude tools he found on the ship. Cahill said the assignments were like opening “Pandora’s box.” The more he lettered, the more he wanted to create signs.Cahill enrolled in an international correspondence school sign painting course and also completed a four-year apprenticeship.”It takes four years of a good apprenticeship to learn letter structure, good layout, color balance, readability, embellishment and a plethora of other things which people don’t think about,” he said.Cahill aims to please his customers but won’t sacrifice quality.”My value as a skilled sign person is to consult with people and really know what it is that they are trying to portray to the public,” he said. “I take their ideas, mixed in with my skills and come up with a readable, attractive product.”Creating quality signs is not his only mission. Cahill is active in the preservation of Corral Bluffs, located on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs. He lobbies for the conservation of the land and contributes his time to clean up a dump on the property.”It gives people a sense of accomplishment because they’ve helped reverse a downward spiral of a piece of land, which never would have been recaptured otherwise without the citizens’ involvement,” Cahill said of the volunteers who have helped preserve Corral Bluffs.Cahill and his wife Phyllis have been Corral Bluffs Alliance board members since 2007. They have a home on the edge of the property.”We were at the right place at the right time, so we feel that the creative powers that are out there in the universe brought us to that region to save that land from being driven to devastating, noisy beehive activity,” he said.Cahill also spends time volunteering at Rock Ledge Ranch, a living history museum preserved on 220 acres of land in Colorado Springs near Garden of the Gods. He said there he demonstrates the use of old-fashioned wood-working tools and sign work.To accurately depict the experience for visitors, Cahill replicated his grandfather’s toolbox as a visual aid. When visitors showed interest in old-fashioned hand lettering techniques, Cahill decided to use the same tools and paint mixing techniques of the 1880s. He searched throughout the United States for a paint mill to add to the authenticity.Remaining active in the community is important to Cahill.”Once you get on that path and you decide to give back, then you become other centered, instead of being self-centered,” he said.When Cahill is not working on his next sign creation, campaigning for the preservation of Corral Bluffs land or educating visitors at Rock Ledge Ranch, he enjoys restoring cars and traveling with his wife.”I’m going to work until I die if it’s something I love, and it’s not like work to me,” Cahill said.Cahill plans to conduct a brush-lettering workshop April 30 to benefit Rock Ledge Ranch. For more information, visit

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