June 29, 2012

Elgin Firefighters Memorial graffiti sparks outrage

Vandals also hit Pioneer Family statue

Elgin Public Works employees Dave Christensen,
left, and Liz Price work to remove graffiti from the
Elgin Firefighters Memorial early Friday evening
as co-worker Katie Thrun steps out of the picture
to grab gear from the van. (Ted Schnell • BocaJump)

By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | Friday, June 29, 2012

“Nice,” was the comment of a passerby, her voice dripping with sarcasm Friday afternoon as she stopped for a moment to see what a photographer was taking a picture of on Elgin’s downtown riverfront.

Someone vandalized the Elgin Firefighters Memorial, leaving a spray-painted phrase containing an expletive apparently intended as an insult to police. Based on the color of the spray paint used, the same person or persons also tagged the Pioneer Family Memorial statue.

The graffiti apparently was done Thursday night or on Friday.
Both memorials are along the Fox River, south of the Kimball Street dam, and the vandalism sparked anger among those who stopped to look upon it.

A fisherman paused in shock when he saw the damage to the Firefighters Memorial on Friday afternoon, shortly before an Elgin Public Works crew arrived to clean up the silver spray paint.

“Kids!” he said in disgust, shaking his head. “They must have done this overnight. I was here (Thursday) afternoon and there was nothing.

“This is very sad,” he added, holding a fishing pole in one hand, a minnow bucket and tackle box in the other. Before turning to head down to the shore, he pointed to the memorial and added, “Those men are heroes. This is no good.”

BocaJump learned of the vandalism shortly before 4 p.m. Friday, when Elgin Chat posted a link to a photo of the vandalism to the Firefighters Memorial with the message, “I don't know if anyone at @ElginIl is aware of this vandalism but they might want to know aout (sic) this.” The post had been made about 3:30 p.m.

BocaJump sent this reporter to the Firefighters Memorial to take pictures, where he discovered the Pioneer Family Memorial statue also had been struck. BocaJump forwarded copies of its pictures and reported the damage to the Elgin Police Department. Elgin Public Works employees Dave Christensen, Liz Price and Katie Thrun were on the scene shortly after 6 to begin removing the paint.

“We’re outraged to see such disrespect,” Elgin police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault said Friday afternoon after being notified of the graffiti. “We will pursue the perpetrators of this.”

Elgin police said the graffiti was not gang-related.
Theriault urged residents who see such graffiti to call police to report it, even if they already have mentioned it or posted it to social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Vandalism is costly to combat, he said, particularly late on a Friday afternoon when a crew must be called in after their work is done for the day to clean it up.

Both memorials are significant, but for different reasons.

The Pioneer Family Memorial statue is a sculpture designed by Elgin native Trygve A. Rovelstad, 1903-1990, a renowned sculptor and medalist.

The Elgin Firefighters Memorial, however, is dedicated to the memory of two Elgin firefighters who, as the memorial proclaims, made “The Ultimate Sacrifice.”

Elgin Fire Department Capt. Stanley Balsis and firefighter Michael Whalen died while attempting to rescue a man who had become trapped in the “boil” at the base of the Kimball Street dam on June 2, 1974.

It is a tragedy that stands out in the memory of Elgin residents from that time. The man they were trying to rescue survived. On a $5 bet, he had gone over the dam on an inflatable raft and was trapped in the dam’s backwash. Balsis and Whalen were overcome by the fierce current as they attempted the rescue. At one point, the man broke free of the same current that exhausted the two firefighters who finally succumbed to the deadly current.

The vandalism angered not only passers-by on Friday afternoon, but also members of the Elgin City Council.

“It is disturbing anytime property is defaced with graffiti,” Councilwoman Tish Powell wrote in an email to BocaJump. “However, the fact that the perpetrators chose to vandalize a memorial honoring individuals who have given the ultimate sacrifice in our community is even more disheartening. It is completely disrespectful. I hope that those responsible are caught and prosecuted.”

Councilman John Prigge also expressed his displeasure.

“This is especially disturbing at a time where I have seen such few cases of graffiti this year,” he wrote in an email.

He noted that the sacrifice made by Balsis and Whalen is one remembered vividly by many of those who lived in Elgin at the time.

“The day these two firefighters lost their lives will be forever etched in my mind as it was opening day for Teener League baseball at Trout Park,” Prigge wrote. “My best friend was our centerfielder and soon after the first pitch he broke his leg on a pick-off play. We called an ambulance to take him to the ‘new’ St. Joseph Hospital. He asked me to ride with him as his parents were away for the entire day. A private ambulance had to come as all fire equipment was at the river. It was gut-wrenching to hear my friend in pain with a compound leg fracture while listening with the ambulance attendants to the scanner in the ambulance as the attempted rescue was going on.”

Fire Chief John Fahy could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon.

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