Most people in Pulaski County have driven past Frog Rock in Waynesville more times than they can count, but not many people know the whole story of how it came to be
Contrary to popular belief, the large frog-shaped boulder that sits on the side of Waynesville Hill wasn't always shaped like a frog.
And contrary to other popular beliefs, the rock did not get its shape magically after the Missouri Department of Transportation widened Historical Route 66 in the 1990s.
The true story of Frog Rock, also known as W.H. Croaker, actually starts with a humble man with a tattooed face, long gray hair, a passion for arts, and a love for the town he calls home.
Phil Nelson of Waynesville is a man who has spent most of his life making his mark on people. He is an artist. For over 33 years, as medic in the Army, Phil has traveled the world permanently marking people with his artwork as a tattoo artist.
And in 1983, he settled into the town of Waynesville, where his mother was at the time.
"I lived all over Europe, South America, and the Caribbean," Nelson said. "And all my friends say 'why Missouri?' and I tell them this is the closest thing to Mayberry as it gets."
Nelson, who calls himself "just an old hippie," likes the vibe of small-town Missouri. People are friendly. They stop and wave when they don't know you. The little things made him call this place his home.
And in 1996, it was well-known around town that Nelson was not only an artist, he was also talented with sculpting.
So one day, Sheila Debo of Waynesville came to Nelson asking him to sculpt the ugly rock formation into something worthy of Waynesville Hill.
"I thought it would make for the perfect tiger head to go with the Waynesville mascot, but the people in the city had something else in mind." Nelson said. "They wanted a frog. Someone on city council or something liked frogs. And that was it, I was to sculpt a frog."
Nelson was offered money for the job, but he refused. His only request was that the city would provide him sculpting tools for carving. As an artist, he likes using his talents to give back. And since the city of Waynesville was his home, he felt he owed it to them.
And for the next nine months, Nelson spent his mornings from roughly 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. sculpting. He sculpted through the granite in all sorts of weather — through snowy mornings and though blistering heat— all free of of charge.
He even fell off the rock, three times.
"I'd be working on top of the the thing and a friend of mine would honk and I'd just fell off the thing."
For whatever reason, a lot of people are under the impression that Nelson simply painted the rock and it was already in a frog-like shape. A simple Google search on Waynesville's Frog Rock can reveal this common misconception.
But truth-be-told, Nelson said he didn't even want to paint it. He didn't believe in painting sculptures. In his eyes that is ruining it.
While Nelson did paint the rock for the first time (after nine months of carving it), recently local groups have been painting the rock about every two years for W.H. Croaker to keep looking fresh.
The Beginning of Frog/ Frogtober Fest
Around nine months after Nelson finished completing W.H. Croaker, Debo called Nelson and pitched her idea of "Frog Fest." Originally, Nelson picked May for the event, in recognition of his daughter's birthday. Unfortunately, the weather ended up not being ideal that time of the year, so they moved it to October a few years later and named it "Frogtober Fest," which will take place on Oct. 6.
Leaving his mark
Despite the myths that leave out his long hours of volunteered labor work, Nelson is proud of the Rock and loves 15 years later, children still get enjoyment out of it.
"It wasn't about the money, it was a legacy I could leave for the kids," Nelson said. "I have nine grandchildren now and they absolutely love it when we drive by it."
Nelson is still living in Waynesville leaving his mark on locals as a tattoo artist at Firehouse Tattoos in St. Robert. He's a bit of a local celebrity: being noticed around town for either his tattoo work on the famous rock.
"I'll be in Wal-Mart and some little kid will point at me and say, "Mommy, there's the man who painted the Frog Rock. He's the frog man." Nelson said with a smile.
He doesn't bother correcting them.
And 15 years after completing the rock, Mayor Luge Hardman will honor Nelson for his hard work and dedication at Thursday night's City Council meeting for sculpting, not just painting, the most popular rock in Waynesville.