When Fort Wayne resident Jerry Vandeveer gets an idea, he tends to go big.
His latest, posted on Facebook, is for area residents to find a way to thank – permanently – the local doctors and nurses, technicians, first responders, custodians and dietary aides who have worked so hard during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“The nurses and doctors didn't sign up to be heroes or ask for gratitude,” the 71-year-old retired owner of The Wood Shack in Fort Wayne said. “Every day, they're putting their lives on the line, and nobody's saying 'I'm not going in to work.'”
When Vandeveer wanted to thank police officers who helped clean up his near-downtown neighborhood, what evolved over several years was the now-landmark Police and Firefighters Memorial on North Wells Street. When he wanted to urge lifesaving colonoscopies, he bought thousands of dollars in billboards.
His idea now is for a monument to medical workers. He even has a place in mind – a sliver of city-owned land between Fairfield and Ewing streets near the Superior Street roundabout.
But that might be putting the cart before the horse, he stresses – even though he's already written Mayor Tom Henry, the Allen County commissioners and Tom Rhoades, chief of police and corporate director of public safety and emergency management at Parkview Health, about the idea.
“It would take time,” Vandeveer said, adding that at his age, time isn't always a given and he'd certainly need help.
“But everybody's sequestered, so now is the time to start thinking about doing something,” he said.
He added he's only trying to “start a conversation,” but he has pledged $250 as an initial donation to the effort.
The Facebook post on his personal page has been liked and commented on and shared by about two dozen people and it's where to go to help.
“We have monuments and memorials of just about every kind, but we don't have that,” Vandeveer said of a medical monument.
He has something of a soft spot for the medical profession after seeing it treat his late wife Linda for colon cancer and his infant grandson for a serious heart problem.
He's also undergoing treatment now for a chronic lung condition he said he might have avoided had he not been so bullheaded about smoking.
“There's not much we can do for them (medical workers), except giving verbal support,” he said. “But maybe if they know something like this monument is in the works, that would give them some encouragement.”