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Elgin area comes through for slain vet’s family

Richard Gibbons’ children Heather Richard Melissstdowntown Elgalley near where he was injured Aug. 11. Gibbons died after someone threw fire

Richard Gibbons’ children Heather, Richard and Melissa stand in a downtown Elgin alley near where he was injured on Aug. 11. Gibbons died after someone threw a fire extinguisher on him from atop a parking deck. | File~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 16, 2011 10:16AM

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.

Since then:

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.”

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