Collmeyer warmed hearts

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Known as one of the most generous members of the community, Wayne Collmeyer died Friday from injuries sustained while volunteering late last year.

Collmeyer’s children, Andrea Kuergeleis and Matthew and Andrew Collmeyer, said they thought of their father as “the ultimate philanthropist.”

“He gave his life to education, church and countless community organizations,” they said. 

Collmeyer, 72, sustained injuries Dec. 22 while playing the role of Santa on Waterloo’s popular Santa Float. He lost his footing and fell backward on the float, hitting his head on the railing. That caused a neck fracture and spinal injury. 

Collmeyer’s condition took a turn for the worse last week before he died. 

Although Collmeyer did not begin working in Waterloo until 1999, he had been part of the fabric of the area for some time. 

He grew up on a dairy farm in Nashville and earned his bachelor’s in 1970, followed by his master’s in 1972, both from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

He became principal of Red Bud High School in 1976, serving in that role for 12 years before being promoted to superintendent in 1988. Collmeyer remained in that position until he took a job as superintendent of the Robinson School District in 1994. 

He returned to this area in 1999 as the Waterloo School District’s superintendent, a role he served in until 2005. 

“He cared about students. He cared about teachers,” Waterloo Superintendent Brian Charron said of Collmeyer, who he described as a dear friend. “He made a comment to me once that ‘if it’s not good for kids, why do we even talk about it?’ That was his philosophy about operating schools.”

Collmeyer’s service to the community continued beyond his career. 

He was a member of the Waterloo Rotary Club for approximately 20 years, serving as president for a time.

That only fostered the relationship between he and Charron, who is the club’s current president. 

“Wayne wanted good things for people,” Charron said. “He would pray for people. He never sought any credit or recognition for what he did or how he cared. He just genuinely wanted good things for people.” 

While Collmeyer did not seek recognition, his generosity often ensured he found some. 

Camp Wartburg, which Collmeyer supported and helped lead as board president, named its craft center after Collmeyer’s late first wife, Linda, about 10 years ago. 

“Wayne was such a huge supporter of Camp Wartburg. He served on the board for three terms and was board chair for much of that time,” Bob Polansky, the camp’s executive director, said. “He was a Godly man and I treasured his prayers, support and friendship. All of camp will miss him dearly. We have a slogan that says ‘Friends Grow Camp,’ and Wayne helped make it happen.”

A member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waterloo, Collmeyer also supported many additional community organizations including serving as president of the congregation at his church and a board member for the Monroe County YMCA. 

He was also a “generous and loving” supporter of House of Neighborly Service, the nonprofit said on Facebook.

“He was a lifelong supporter of children and families going through difficult times. His family, faith and community were most important to him in the way he chose to live his life,” the organization wrote. “It was our great honor and privilege to have known and worked with him and his family through the years, and know that he will be greatly missed.” 

Through all those efforts, Collmeyer made his mark on the community. 

“If you look at the comments of people in the community, they talk about his warmth, his smile, his genuineness, his way of just listening to everybody like they were the most important person,” his children said. “I think the biggest thing you can say about dad is, everybody who ever met dad, the positive impression he left on people. Anyone who ever had a conversation with dad came away feeling like they were the most important person in the room.”

As busy as he was with helping others, Collmeyer always made time for his family. 

“We always say, he was just dad to us, but he was so much more to so many people,” the Collmeyer siblings shared. “He was so involved with our kids and so involved with us. He was just a sounding-board for life. If it was a tough day at work, you called dad. If it was a tough day just being a dad and a family man, you called dad. Or if you just had news in general, you called dad.”

In addition to his children, Collmeyer is survived by his wife Kathleen and 12 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, among other loved ones. 

A funeral service takes place Wednesday afternoon at Waterloo High School. 

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