A background in design and illustration can make for one explosive family night.

by Patty Catalano


Chuck Gamble

PTO President
Jim Falls (Wis.) Elementary

Best known for: Using his imagination and artistic talents to help the school attended by daughters Sophia, 7, and Grace, 5. Gamble, who took over as PTO president last August, is a professional website designer, cartoonist, and illustrator. Over the years, he has designed posters and flyers for the school and for various events; recently he created boy and girl eagle mascots that were featured on spiritwear T-shirts sold on campus.

Setting the scene: Among his most notable achievements, Gamble coordinated an elaborate tiki-themed fun night last May for which he designed and constructed two 6-foot tiki figures, a 15-foot totem pole, and an 8-foot “erupting” volcano. “I have a slight tiki/Polynesian obsession,” Gamble explains, “so I thought that could make for a fun party idea and, since the family fun night happens at the end of the school year, a good sendoff into summer.”

Impressive improv: The towering tikis and volcano were made of cardboard that Gamble scavenged from home construction dumpsters. “I used to work at a video production company and learned how to get by making sets with very little budget,” he says. “We also had real bamboo torches with flashlights wrapped in cellophane for flames.” Gamble crafted a grass hut for the food service area, too; meanwhile, the PTO projected a beach video onto the wall while tropical music played.

Lights, camera, lava: Gamble worked several weekends and nights to produce the special effects. For the volcanic eruption, he hoisted a fan inside the crater to blow on some silk fabric and fastened a bright red light beneath to make it glow as it fluttered. “I also had a fog machine blowing smoke out of several channels on the volcano,” he recalls. “It looked really good—as long as we kept the lights off.”

Small parts, big production: To get the items to the school intact, Gamble says, “I had made all the props in pieces so they could be taken apart and tossed in the back of my truck. The big totem pole actually folded up....Only problem was trying to remember how everything went together!”

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