By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 12, 2021 at 11:49 AM

If 2020 hadn’t already turned our collective smile upside down in so many ways – including canceling the whole of Summerfest for the first time ever – the Journal Sentinel has reported that "the year that wasn’t" also took the 97-year-old designer of Summerfest’s smiley face logo.

Noel Spangler, who designed the logo along with Richard D. Grant, died of complications related to COVID-19 on Dec. 28 in Milwaukee, according to the newspaper.

An Illinois native, Spangler studied art at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and moved to Milwaukee in 1957 to lead the commercial art department at the Layton School of Art.

He also taught at UW-Madison and did commercial work in Milwaukee, launching the Center for the Development of Visual Communications with Grant in 1969.

The two pitched a series of logo ideas to the still-young Summerfest in 1970, including the now ubiquitous smiley face. Amazingly, Spangler and Grant gave the logo to the Big Gig for free, according to the paper.

“Summerfest is forever indebted to Mr. Spangler for his design of the iconic Summerfest smile logo, which has become synonymous with the music festival," said Milwaukee World Festival Inc. said in a statement.

"His design has changed only slightly since its inception 50 years ago, as it truly embodies Summerfest’s mission of bringing the community together to celebrate music, diversity and summer fun. On behalf of everyone at Milwaukee World Festival Inc., we send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.