EAST PEORIA — It's a modest veterans memorial — a patch of grass, a granite marker, a flagpole and a couple of old, tired park benches. It passes unseen in the periphery of most of the motorists in the four lanes of traffic that pass Theodore Street on Washington Street every day in Sunnyland.
"I didn't know it was there," said resident Sean Rennau, who grew up in the area. "I was jogging by it, stopped to take a look and saw that it could really use a little tender loving care."
Or a complete replacement.
The Bill Maher Veterans Memorial Restoration group is seeking donations to construct a new veterans memorial in Sunnyland. Local pharmacist and community activist Bill Maher established the memorial to pay tribute to local war veterans and outstanding citizens in the East Peoria and Washington area. He paid for the memorial and its upkeep with his own money. Since he died in 2007, the memorial, located on city-owned property, has gotten little attention or upkeep.
The restoration group aims to change that.
"We want to pay proper respect for veterans," Robert Cole said Wednesday. Cole is the city's director of buildings and inspections, a resident of Sunnyland and a member of the group trying to breathe new life into the old memorial. "It's being done by a lot of people who feel very passionately about veterans and their community."
The new memorial will be set on a neatly landscaped parcel with native plants, a lighted American flag, benches, a curved granite wall, a walkway and parking.
After a a year of informal fundraising, the group has raised about $10,000 of the $60,000 it says it needs to complete the project. Now raising money begins in earnest. Mayors Dave Mingus of East Peoria and Gary Manier of Washington will kick off the invigorated money drive at an event at 11 a.m. Thursday at the site.
Eligible residents and family members can have a name engraved on the wall for $100. Those who simply want to donate can send checks to American Legion Post 100, c/o Bill Maher Veterans Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 83, Washington, IL 61571 with Bill Maher Veterans Memorial Fund written on the memo line. Receipts are available upon request. Donations are tax deductible. Eligible veterans are to have served in one of the five branches of the United States military with a residence of East Peoria or Washington.
For Rennau, who is an architect and designed the new memorial, it's personal.
"I want my grandfather's name (Wayne Rennau) on the wall who served in the Navy in World War II, and I have a couple of uncles who served in the Korea and Vietnam wars," he said.
"We believe it is a great opportunity to pay respect to our veterans by giving some time and effort to bring the site up to code while adding quality, low maintenance, environmentally conscious design improvements with unique and charming civic value," the group wrote in a prepared statement.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.