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Cleo Wayne Hovel

PFC in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co D, 1st Platoon


Born 1921 in MN, Died 1970


County of residence at enlistment: Hennepin County, MN
Other residence(s): Jackson, MN in 1942; Minneapolis, MN
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: artists, sculptors, and teachers of art
College education before the war: Minneapolis College of Art and Design 1 year
College education after the war: Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Source: 603rd Camouflage Engineer Roster provided by W. Anderson; Rick Beyer; Bernie Mason Company D Roster; bio info from The Ghost Army by Beyer/Sayles; Harold Dahl letters

Cleo Hovel was born on January 20, 1921 in Jackson, MN. He registered for the draft on February 16, 1942, at which time he was living in Minneapolis and working at retail chain Gamble-Skogno. He also managed to get in a year of classes at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) before he enlisted in the Army on August 25, 1942.

He married Charlotte Sinn on June 7, 1943.

As an artist he found his way into the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, and like the other artists in the unit he spent his down time in Europe creating art. Five of his wash and pen drawings are included in The Ghost Army of World War II. Cleo's friend, Harold Dahl, wrote letters home raving about Cleo's sketches and paintings. "Hovel did a beautiful water-color the other day of a kid sitting in my lap—I’m going to have to fight to get the original but I’ll do my best."

Cleo spent three months convalescing in Paris near the end of the war where he met and talked with many noted Parisian artists, and studied under Andre Lhote. He also ran into Picasso whom he described as "small and wrinkled but full of vitality. The thing he talks most about—next to women—is art."

Cleo was discharged from the Army on December 14, 1945 and returned to Minneapolis and Charlotte. A 1946 article in the Minneapolis Star quotes him as saying that he had been invited to take an art directorship job but that he had turned it down in favor of going back to school to complete his degree. "I decided I'd go back to art school and learn art from the ground up, before I formed any bad habits I couldn't shake off."

The article also described an October 1946 exhibit in Luxembourg of art by members of the 603rd—he had sent a number of his drawings to be included in this show.

After finishing his studies at Minneapolis School of Art in 1949, he took a job as an artist, and later art director, at advertising agency Campbell Mithun. He and Charlotte became the parents of two children: Linda and Richard.

In 1960 he was lured away from the agency for a job with the Leo Burnett agency in Chicago as TV creative director. He spent several years there before returning to Campbell Mithun (though remaining in the Chicago office) as executive VP in charge of creative. In July, 1969 he was named president of Campbell Mithun and returned to Minneapolis to take over the company.

Sadly, he was stricken with a fatal heart attack six months later while on a trip to Chicago for the agency. He died on January 9, 1970 and is buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

During his years in advertising he was credited with creating the Hamm's Beer bear, Charlie the Tuna, the 1960s Jolly Green Giant, and the Schlitz Beer campaign—"When you're out of Schlitz, you're out of beer."

The Hamm's Beer bear is the figure with whom he was most closely associated, since it became a Minnesota icon. According to a 2018 article on the Minnpost website: "Controversy exists about who first 'created' the bear. Most agree that the character was born in 1952 at Freddie’s restaurant in Minneapolis at a meeting with Cleo Hovel, creative director for Campbell Mithun, and Howard Swift, an animator who worked for the California TV production company Swift-Chaplin. Hovel usually gets the credit for drawing the bear on a napkin in response to the idea to add an animal character to the Sky Blue Waters campaign."

A Note About His Son

Cleo's son, Richard, who had been only 15 when his father died, also went into advertising, eventually forming an advertising agency named the Hovel Group with his wife, Debra. In 1999 they were purchased by MHS Partners-Minneapolis, with Debra taking over as COO of the new agency and Richard as EVP.


1942 draft card

1942 enlistment record

1943 marriage record

1944-1945 Letters from Harold J. Dahl

1946 article in Minneapolis Star re WW2 and his art career

1969 article in Chicago Tribune re his promotion to president of Campbell-Mithun

1969 article in Minneapolis Star-Tribune re his promotion

1970 US Headstone Applications for Military Veterans

1970 Social Security Death Index

1970 Find a Grave record

1970 obituary in the Bismarck Tribune (ND),0.5694,0.7338405,0.73464507&xid=3355&_ga=2.91472152.324963691.1620067581-1541196250.1620067581

1970 obituary in the Minneapolis MN Star-Tribune

1999 article in Minneapolis MN Star-Tribune about his and his son's advertising careers

2018 article on Minnpost website re the Hamm's Beer Bear

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