The City of Waterloo installed three first responder statues at William Zimmer Park last week, just in time for the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“It was an act of God,” Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith said, referring to the timeline being unintentional.
It turns out the idea to install such a memorial in Waterloo was a topic of discussion in recent years.
The three concrete statues painted bronze stand out against the cornfields behind them. One is an EMS worker, another is a firefighter complete in his turnout gear and another is a police officer.
They are part of a larger display that is yet to be finished, but one Smith hopes will be completed by October.
“There are going to be four flagpoles going up: One for police, one for fire, one for EMS and one (for the) State of Illinois,” Smith explained. “Then, we will also have a monument that will go in between, with two flags on each side. The monument will have the names of officers and the firemen who lost their lives in the line of duty (from Monroe County).”
Hence, the memorial will be referred to as the Monroe County First Responder Memorial.
These brave men are Sgt. Alfred Descher of the Columbia Police Department, Special Columbia Police Officer William Rauch, former Waterloo Fire Chief Warren Lutz and Illinois State Police Trooper Nick Hopkins of Waterloo. As a retired second-generation ISP trooper, Smith feels a great connection to these heroes.
In fact, Hopkins’ 2019 shooting death sparked the memorial, Smith said.
“After Nick (Hopkins’) death, I thought, ‘We don’t have a first responder memorial in Monroe County,’” Smith said. “I talked to (members of the committee) to get their opinion also, and we thought we should do a first responder memorial.”
Smith and the committee, which includes city officials Sarah Deutch and Shawn Kennedy, Shelby Matthes from the park district and Joe Krump from the Waterloo Fire Department, came across SVJ Creative Designs, who made the statues.
Deutch, Kennedy and Smith drove to Aledo to view similar statues in person. After their trip, they knew they wanted to go with SVJ.
In addition to the monument and the flags, the city will also be installing lighting fixtures and a bronze marker that gives credit to those who made the monument possible: the William and Sophia Oerter Foundation and the 6141 Foundation created in Hopkins’ memory, along with the City of Waterloo.
Both foundations made donations to the project.
When the monument is fully completed, Smith said he hopes it will inspire citizens to remember the sacrifices first responders make daily to ensure others’ safety.
“(I hope) they’ll remember the lives lost in the line of duty,” Smith said. “It’s a ‘thank you’ to the officers, firemen and EMS workers that risk their lives everyday.”
Currently, Waterloo hopes to work with others to erect similar statues in honor of veterans at Lakeview Park’s current veterans’ memorial. Smith wants one of them to be a female soldier, but the company didn’t have any female first responder statues.