Elgin area comes through for slain Vet’s family
By Dave Gathman email@example.com October 6,2011
Richard Gibbons’ children Heather, Richard and Melissa stand in an alley near the area where he was killed on August 11. Gibbons, a Vietnam veteran who became homeless and was murdered when someone threw a fire extinguisher at him from the top of the parking deck while he was sleeping in an alley at the deck’s south side. September 24, 2011. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
ELGIN — After The Courier-News ran a story explaining how a homeless Vietnam-era veteran had been slain in downtown Elgin and his family remained $1,100 short of what they needed to cremate his body and hold a memorial service, so many concerned people and organizations stepped forward that the family now has more than enough money to handle the funeral expenses.
But they are going forward anyway with a fundraiser planned at 5 p.m. today at the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant in Algonquin Commons shopping center along Randall Road in Algonquin.
Family members now say they will direct the money raised to three groups that help homeless people such as their father.
Richard Gibbons, a 60-year-old carpenter who served in the Army in Germany during the Vietnam War, was spending most of his time living on the streets and in shelters as a homeless alcoholic when he was killed. Elgin police say that on Aug. 10, a Chicago man with a criminal record apparently began teasing him from the top floor of the five-story-tall Fulton Street Parking Deck as Gibbons was trying to sleep in an alley below. The Chicago man then allegedly threw a fire extinguisher from the rooftop, inflicting severe abdominal injuries on Gibbons. He died on Sept. 4; the Chicago man, Yancarlo Garcia, was charged with first-degree murder.
When The Courier-News published its profile of Gibbons Sept. 25, his two daughters and son, and the daughters’ mother, said they had raised only $600 of the $1,700 they would need to put their father to rest as he wished — by being cremated.
The Elgin Township Board voted to devote $500 of taxpayer money to pay for the body to be cremated at Laird Funeral Home in Elgin. The township often provides this service to destitute township residents who die without means for a funeral. Gibbons’ daughter Melissa said that after this money arrived and the family turned over $600 donated earlier by the Street Outreach project in which their father had participated during his good times, the funeral home went ahead and cremated the body.
The Carpentersville-based International Order of Oddfellows Century Lodge 492 voted to donate $1,100.
Member Ron Mabe said he made a pitch to do that at the group’s last meeting, and members present agreed unanimously, “because that is what Oddfellows do. Our creed is to educate the orphans and to bury the dead. We believe that if each man does his part, we can better our communities one man at a time.”
Mabe said he plans to give the $1,100 to the Gibbons family at tonight’s fundraiser.
Also in Carpentersville, Jerry Christopherson mentioned the family’s plight to members of the Patriot Committee of Dundee Township, which has organized “Healing Fields” and “welcome home” ceremonies for veterans of new wars and old. Christopherson said he would give the family $500, and the committee’s other members then pledged $411 — bringing the committee’s donation to $911 in commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, victims.
Now that the cremation costs have been covered, Christopherson said, he will go to the fundraiser and present the family with checks made out in honor of Richard Gibbons to the Wayside Center and the Elgin PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter).
Elgin mortician Gary Durante of Alternative Horizons Funeral and Cremation Service offered to arrange cremation and services for Gibbons for free. But the offer arrived after Laird already had finished the cremation.
“We’re just really touched by everybody’s generosity,” Melissa Gibbons said Thursday. “What we raise at Cheeseburger in Paradise Friday will be divided among the Wayside Center, the Elgin Soup Kettle and Street Outreach.”
Melissa Gibbons said tonight’s fundraiser will begin at 5 and continue through the evening with free food, karaoke singing and raffling off of 23 donated prizes, including an iPad.
She said her family hopes to hold a memorial service soon, possibly at one of the area’s veterans halls. “We will announce the memorial plans publicly as a way of saying thank you to all those who have donated,” she said.
Melissa said she and her siblings have yet to decide what to do with their father’s ashes. “We may divide them among the three of us. Or we may decide to spread the ashes somewhere because our father was a free spirit in life.”
Christopherson said that at the fundraiser, the Patriot Committee also will present the family with one of the flags flown in its Healing Field project, along with a replica Army dogtag bearing Richard Gibbons’ name.
Christopherson said he personally related to the story of the slain, homeless vet because he served in the Army at about the same time, also in Germany, and he also experienced the lack of respect that many antiwar people directed at soldiers in the contentious Vietnam days.
“Nowadays, people support our troops. But when I came back from Germany, my commanding officer suggested I fly in civilian clothes to avoid being abused,” Christopherson said. “When I read the news story, it got my attention that something like this could happen to another veteran.”
Memorial service set in honor of murdered homeless veteran
BY DAVE GATHMAN firstname.lastname@example.org October 20, 2011
ELGIN — A memorial service for murdered homeless veteran Richard Gibbons will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Elgin’s American Legion Hall, at 820 N. Liberty St. And his family members say they have received thousands of dollars in donations in his name that will be used to help other homeless people.
Gibbons, a 60-year-old carpenter who served in the Army in Germany during the Vietnam War, was spending most of his time living on the streets and in shelters as a homeless alcoholic when he was killed.
Elgin police say that on Aug. 10, a Chicago man — Yancarlo Garcia — with a criminal record apparently began teasing him from the top floor of the five-story-tall Fulton Street Parking Deck as Gibbons was trying to sleep in an alley below. Garcia then allegedly threw a fire extinguisher from the rooftop, inflicting severe abdominal injuries on Gibbons. He died Sept. 4. Garcia has been charged with first-degree murder in the incident.
When The Courier-News published a profile of Gibbons on Sept. 25, his two daughters and son, and the daughters’ mother, said they had raised only $600 of the $1,700 they would need to put their father to rest as he wished — by being cremated. They had scheduled a fundraiser on Oct. 7 at an Algonquin restaurant. But even before the fundraiser, so many donations had been given or pledged to the family that the cremation expenses had been more than covered.
Gibbons’ daughter, Melissa, said four organizations also stepped forward to offer use of a hall where the family could hold a memorial service to celebrate her father’s life and to thank those who donated. Because his background as a veteran had stirred so many people, she said, the family decided to hold the service at the legion hall.
Melissa Gibbons said about 200 people attended the fundraiser. “That night brought in about $5,000, and altogether we have received maybe $7,000 now,” she said. “We have been just floored by the response and are eternally grateful for all the generosity people have shown.”
After any memorial service expenses are covered, she said, the family plans to buy winter clothing and blankets for specific homeless individuals who, like their father, often find themselves excluded from sleeping in shelters because they drink too much and smell like alcohol. “We already have collected the clothing sizes for about eight people who knew my father,” she said.
She said donations at the fundraiser included a $411 check to the Elgin PADS shelter and $500 check to Wayside Center. Those apparently came from the Patriot Committee of Dundee Township and its chairman, Jerry Christopherson. The Carpentersville-based International Order of Oddfellows Century Lodge 492 donated $1,100, and Elgin Township paid $500 to the mortuary under a program it has to pay for the cremation costs of indigent residents.
Melissa Gibbons said that whatever is left over after buying the clothing will be divided among Wayside Center, the Elgin Soup Kettle and Street Outreach, a homeless-rehabilitation program in which her father participated during his sober periods.
She said the fate of her father’s ashes remains undecided. She said she and her brother and sister “have talked about dividing the ashes among us. But I think I’ll end up releasing my portion of them somewhere. My dad was a free soul and I can’t see him being bottled up.”