In Memory

Joe Schaler Ė A life of helping those in need

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[June 09, 2024]   Joe Schaler was a huge name in the Central Illinois veteranís community. He was the founder of the Central Illinois Veterans Commission (CIVC) and was very dedicated to the mission of providing veterans with what they needed, especially housing.

Joe passed recently, and to say that the veteranís community suffered a great loss would be an understatement.

I got to meet Joe personally for the first time when I wrote a story on the 5th street housing project about a year ago. That building, now known as Hope on 5th, was Joeís most recent project in his effort to provide housing to veterans in Central Illinois. This was one of the earliest stories I wrote for LDN, and I remember being nervous. I wasnít sure what to expect and wanted to make sure I wrote a good article and got good pictures. When I got the job at LDN, my editor told me that they needed someone to consistently cover veteranís events in Logan County. My father was a veteran, and so I jumped at the opportunity to cover veteranís stories. With this being my first big story relating to the veteranís community here in town, I didnít want to do a bad job and disappoint Joe and everyone else in that community.

When I sat down with Joe and Kim Turner for the interview, I could tell quickly how much Joe cared about the veterans in Lincoln and the Central Illinois region at large. He shared how the CIVC was building tiny homes for veterans, but that the homes were being filled as soon as they were constructed. They even had a waiting list for people wanting houses that CIVC hadnít even broken ground on yet. When he saw the old Lincoln College dorm building was up for sale, he had an idea and knew he had to jump at the opportunity. I saw a spark in Joeís eyes that I recognized. Iíve always been a person with a natural desire to help others. I felt a certain kinship with Joe in this way, and immediately made a connection with him.

Now Joe admitted to me that the project was a lot, and it was risky, as operating a building of that size is not cheap, let alone the additional cost of renovating it. He said that the benefit it could have to the veteranís community was worth the risk, and that he was sure they would find some way to fundraise for it. Several other groups and organizations also got involved, and many ideas were tossed around of how this building could be utilized for the benefit of veterans as well as others in need. Joe was happy that this idea of his was going to be able to help others in our community in addition to veterans. Joe had a massive heart for taking care of people in need.

I remember feeling a great weight on my shoulders as I wrote that article. I knew how important the story was to Joe, Kim, and the Lincoln community. I knew that positive press could help Joe and Kim get the attention for the project that they were looking for. Thatís why it meant so much to me when, the next time I saw Joe at an event I was covering for LDN, he introduced me as a ďfabulous writer.Ē

As a journalist, I like to compile contacts. Not only does it give me links to people who could help me get information for a story, it also helps me make deeper connections with people in our community. Iíve been working at LDN for about a year, and in that time, Iíve learned more about the Logan County community than I had in the three years I lived here before then.

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I say all this to say that Joe was the first contact I had that I started consistently running into at events. Every veteran event that I covered, Joe was there. He was even at a couple of events that were not veteran events. He would always make it a point to come talk to me, or vice versa. I got a lot more comfortable with Joe through these interactions and got to know his heart even more. The more I learned about Joe, the more I saw that there was to be admired.

The last story I covered where I got to see Joe was the unveiling of two new tiny homes on Decatur Street in Lincoln. Joe gave credit to those who had constructed the house, had a bit of tongue in cheek humor, and then invited people to go inside and see how nice it looked. It was nice getting to see and talk to Joe again, and we talked a bit about me continuing to cover the 5th street housing project. He told me a bit about how far it had come and that they already had people moving in. Once again, I could see the excitement in Joeís eyes from being able to help those in need.

At the first interview I had with Joe, he shared a story with me that I feel shows how far he was willing to go for others, as well as the community of helpfulness he helped foster among our veterans. Several years ago, a younger veteran was passing through Lincoln when his car broke down on Old Route 66. He was not sure what to do, so he searched Facebook and found someone in Lincoln who was also a veteran. After this man reached out to our local veteran, that veteran reached out to Joe. Over the next few days, Joe and other veterans in town were able to get this man a place to stay and his vehicle fixed. Even though none of them knew this man, they all chose to see someone in need rather than a stranger. They all rallied behind him and made sure he got everything he needed, not expecting anything in return. Joeís desire to help others has helped bring together a group of like-minded people, serving others for the simple fact it is the right thing to do, not because they get something in return.

I like to think that Joe would have wanted the Logan County community to come together and continue to help and support one another. Joe had a huge heart for others, and I for one am going to take the example that Joe lived his life by and try to continue that in my life as well.

Thank you, Joe, for all the hard work you put in for others and how much you cared about those around you. You have earned your rest with the Lord.

[Matt Boutcher, Lincoln Daily News]

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