Gone But Never Forgotten: Waterloo honors first responders

The family of fallen Waterloo Fire Chief Warren Lutz approaches the monument to reveal his name. Lutz died of a heart attack while responding to a fire in 1980. See more photos at republictimes.smugmug.com.

On Saturday morning, the First Responders Memorial at Zimmer Park in Waterloo was officially completed, with families of those fallen and supportive community members gathering for its unveiling. 

The three bronze statues installed in September – one fireman, one police officer and one EMS worker – are now surrounded by corresponding first responder flags, benches and a monument honoring those from Monroe County who died in the line of duty.

 “This First Responder Memorial Monument is dedicated to all who help and serve our communities every day to make our lives safer, especially to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their line of duty. With eternal gratitude, we remember,” Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith said as he unveiled the memorial. 

Etched into the memorial’s stone are names of five first responders from Monroe County who died as active personnel: Columbia Police Officer William Rauch, Columbia Police Sgt. Alfred J. Descher, Waterloo Fire Chief Warren Lutz, Illinois State Police Trooper Nicholas Hopkins and James “Mitch” Ellis from the St. Louis County Police Department.

The families of these five brave men were an integral part of Saturday’s dedication, each peeling off tape to reveal their loved one’s name on the monument after the three memorial benches were unveiled. 

The first memorial bench to be unveiled was dedicated to EMS workers who serve within Monroe County, the second to fallen Cahokia Police Patrolman Jeremy Chambers and the third to Hopkins. 

In his speech, Jeremy’s father Earl Chambers, a member of the Waterloo Police Board and leader of the Hero 101 Fund which donates equipment to first responders and supports their families in Jeremy’s honor, encapsulated the heart of the memorial’s purpose. 

“Mearl Justus, the former St. Clair County Sheriff, made a comment at a memorial one time that I will always remember and never forget: ‘There is something worse than dying, and it’s being forgotten.’ So, never forget the ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice and be grateful to all our first responders who worked to keep us safe,” Chambers said.

Hopkins’ wife Whitney said a few words as she introduced her late husband’s memorial bench to the public.

“Your support over the last three years has been unbelievable,” she said. “We have people who show up for us all of the time – almost on a daily basis – and it’s such an honor to be part of a community that shows up.” 

This community is what led the Ellis family to continue to reside in Monroe County even after Mitch became employed by St. Louis County Police. 

As Joe Krump, one of the members of the memorial committee and Waterloo Fire Department, told the crowd, Mitch died in an auto accident while heading home to his family in Hecker following a shift on 2019. 

“He worked in St. Louis County, and he loved his job, but he also loved Monroe County. Him and I had a lot of conversations throughout his career about moving closer to work because it did take him an hour to and from work, and it was always a ‘No, I don’t want to leave my community that I love,’” his wife Nicole told the crowd. “For us, every day we wake up is a constant reminder that he’s no longer with us and we have to intentionally find joy in the day. It doesn’t come easy for us. I just want to say today is filled with a lot of joy, so I want to thank everyone.”

Descher’s daughter Rosemary Law introduced the younger community members to her father, who was responding to an accident when a semi tractor-trailer struck and killed him in 1964.

“He was a loving husband, he was a fantastic father. He was patient, he was kind and he could make you behave without really saying anything, you just did it. Besides his family, his greatest love I would have to say would be his God,” she said. 

State Rep. David Friess (R-Red Bud), Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing, Monroe County Commissioner Dennis Knobloch, Sophia and Elmer Oerter Charitable Foundation President Mark Scoggins and Mark Doiron, who filled in for ISP Director Brendan Kelly as he was ill, also spoke during the dedication. 

“The death of a first responder is not only a tragedy to that individual’s family, but to the department that they serve in and the community,” Rep. Friess said. 

Smith thanked the three monetary donors: the Sophia and Elmer Oerter Charitable Foundation, City of Waterloo Beautification Committee and Foundation 6141, which was created in Nick Hopkins’ honor. He also thanked area first responders, Waterloo city departments, Hill Monument Company and countless others who made the memorial happen. 

Whitney Hopkins, wife of late Illinois State Police Trooper Nick Hopkins, views a new memorial bench in Nick’s honor along with their son Owen on Saturday.
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