A Christmas tale: The story behind the University of Charleston’s holiday card

John Vintroux says it began in 1996 with a dog, a paper plate and a bologna sandwich.

That’s what he saw when he looked out the front window of his Kanawha Avenue home: a dog trotting down the street, carrying a bologna sandwich on a paper plate.

Minutes later the dog trotted back, carrying the plate, this time without the sandwich. Perhaps it was dog’s jaunty air that struck Vintroux as humorous; perhaps the dog’s sense of purpose. But he decided to keep an eye on the situation.

Sure enough, almost daily the dog would repeat the routine: trot down the street, pick up a bologna sandwich on paper plate, take it to his home, eat it, then return the empty plate to Vintroux’s neighbor.

Curious, Vintroux, 72, a retired accountant for Columbia Gas, began to watch for the dog. Every day or so like clockwork, the dog would trot back and forth carrying plate and sandwich in one direction and empty plate in the other.

This gave Vintroux an idea and thus began a delightful tradition of making personal greeting cards for neighbors and friends at Christmas.

Though Vintroux was an accountant, he had developed an appreciation and skill for drawing. His father, Kendall Vintroux, was the Charleston Gazette’s artist and political cartoonist from 1922 to 1968, creating such popular features as “Dog Wagon,” in which he featured prominent and sometimes not-so-prominent local characters.

John Vintroux had learned to draw at his father’s elbow and had been art editor of the Charleston High Book Strap and Marshall University’s Parthenon. While at Columbia Gas, he was often called on to make illustrations, flip charts and cartoons even though he worked in the accounting department.

So Vintroux drew the home of the dogs’ benefactors, Dennis and Mary Pennington. In the foreground on the sidewalk, he drew the golden retriever, known in the neighborhood as Fendi, carrying a plate with a bologna sandwich.

Thus began an annual tradition for Vintroux, drawing and coloring six or seven individualized Christmas cards for his neighbors.

He draws not just the house on the street, but the neighborhood with the Capitol dome in the background, populated with squirrels and neighborhood dogs — and usually portraying some humorous incident or memory that the recipient will relate to.

It is an extremely personal gift, a gift of his talent, drawing and painting.

His sister and brother-in-law, Ann and Bob Morris, asked him to do a Christmas card showing their home decorated for the holidays.

“After that, I started doing cards for neighbors usually with some humorous event or trait — pets, hobby or special memory.

“A lady who lived nearby walked her two dogs around the neighborhood. That year one died. I did a card for her showing her walking her two dogs. She sent me a card, she was very touched,” he said.

Most ideas come through observations throughout the year.

“One neighbor [the late Sam Moore] was a ham radio operator. He had a lot of antennas on his roof, so I sent him a card showing Santa all tangled up in his antennas, yelling ‘Help.’”

Vintroux takes frequent walks around his neighborhood that he affectionately calls South Ruffner. One day, walking along Kanawha Avenue he noticed the pleasing view of the University of Charleston president’s home and the Clay tower, with the Capitol dome in between. He thought it would be a nice memory card for UC President Ed Welch and his wife, Janet.

He sent them the card. Welch called and thanked him and asked to use it for the official UC Christmas card for 2005.

Vintroux does six or seven cards a year depending on when he gets an idea for a card. His sister, Ann Morris, often makes suggestions. Every card is drawn in pen and ink, then copies of the pen-and-ink drawing are made and watercolor is applied to the copy. The finished card is then copied and printed on card stock, so the process is very exacting.

He has no plans to come out of retirement and get into the card business. He wants to continue to draw as long as energy and health permit.

“I like to have life in my art. I more or less see art in everything and art can be applied to everything. Like work, leisure, everyday events, I like to look at them in a humorous vein. Look for the humor.”

Vintroux is fascinated by a similarity between his professional field of accounting and his avocation as artist.

In accounting, you have debits and credits. In art, you have light and dark. You want balance in both. Art is creative and, he notes wryly, that looking at some of the national accounting scandals, accounting has become very creative.

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