For years, Mark Keim and Stan Darter would go every Friday to the Waterloo VFW where they volunteered.
Keim, who started volunteering after his longtime VFW member father, Glenn, died, would have two beers then head back home.
That weekly tradition was interrupted when Keim was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. The illness rendered him unable to feel anything below the chest, so he could not walk down the stairs to the VFW dining hall.
The inability to continue that tradition was the first thing Keim spoke about when Darter visited him.
After Keim, who volunteered with the Waterloo Fire Department and at the Monroe County History Museum, died May 14 at age 68, his family asked for donations to the VFW and museum.
So, in honor of his friend, Darter is leading an effort to install a handicap-accessible entrance at the VFW.
“It’s been a really great project to conceive and to work on,” said Darter, who is also a Waterloo alderman. “Mark was a really great guy. So much of the credit has to be to Mark. It couldn’t be a better thing to have this done in his memory.”
Darter minimized his own role in the project, saying Keim should be credited and quoting his famous phrase, “If I would complain I would be ungrateful.”
“I was just in the right place at the right time, and I have the ability to do something,” Darter added.
Darter, who also serves on the Human Support Services board, said he thought for a few weeks about what he would do at the VFW to honor Keim.
When he saw some VFW members and HSS clients struggle with the stairs, Darter remembered how Keim could not continue his tradition for that same reason.
So, he started working to see if an entrance for people with mobility issues could be installed, something the building has lacked since it opened in 1954.
He talked with Waterloo Building Inspector Nathan Krebel, who devised a plan for how the entrance could be built via the window closest to the exterior stairs to give access to the dining hall.
The upper part of the building is already handicap-accessible.
Once Darter and Krebel had a plan and got it OK’d by the VFW, they took the idea to Keim’s family to get their blessing.
They got that and started working Sept. 20.
Darter initially estimated the entrance would cost about $21,000 to build.
Krebel, who is related to the Keim family, said he knew people who would volunteer their time to work on the project since it was in honor of Keim, including him.
That lowered the estimate to $12,500.
The Waterloo Odd Fellows then pledged to donate $7,500 to the project, and Darter said he knew they could raise enough money to complete it.
“Waterloo is a very generous community,” Darter said. “I’ve only lived here 15 years, but I don’t think there’s a better place to live.”
Most of the money has been donated, but more is still needed.
Any excess funds will go toward a few other small projects at the VFW and whatever use the Keim family decides.
Contributions are accepted at all State Bank of Waterloo locations and at Waterloo City Hall. Make checks payable to the Mark Keim Memorial.
The work will continue as donations keep arriving.
Remaining work includes a roof structure, electrical work including a push-button entry and little aspects like handrails.
Darter said that should all be done around mid-October, at which time there will be a grand opening.
To make that happen, Darter encouraged individuals to donate to help the older clients and VFW members who struggle with mobility.
He said that is particularly important in Waterloo given the large senior population.
“We need to make sure that our senior community has access to where they want to go,” Darter said.
Call Darter at 618-401-7695 or Krebel at 618-939-8600 for more information on the project.