Volunteers needed to raise about $1 million to repair and replace the roof of the former Keokuk Union Depot along the city's riverfront. They were able to meet that goal thanks to a contribution from the Jeffris Family Foundation out of Janesville, Wisconsin.
Roman Vetter, who is one of three people on the Foundation’s Board of Directors, said during a recent visit to Keokuk that the Foundation provides grants to preservation projects of historical significance in eight Midwestern states. He said the focus is on smaller communities such as Keokuk because larger communities should have the financial resources available to support such projects.
“We look at the smaller communities where a lot of individual donors step up to work to match our grant and bring the project to fruition,” said Vetter.
In the case of Keokuk, the foundation donated roughly $333,000 after local supporters raised about $666,000. That is the common formula for the foundation, donating $1.00 for every $2.00 raised.
“I believe about 93% of our projects have come to fruition,” said Vetter. “We had a brochure printed a few years ago of our projects and it is already out of date.”
Vetter said the project in Keokuk made its way onto the radar of the foundation when one of the directors heard about it while driving to Missouri. That director visited the depot, which kicked off the research phase to determine if the project should receive funding.
“Sometimes we will visit the site first to see what we think and other times all we have are photographs to take a look at,” said Vetter. “Often times, through the websites, we are able to make a pretty good determination.”
Vetter said upon seeing the depot for the first time, he is quite pleased with the results. He said he sees the depot as a kick-off for potentially more restoration projects thanks to its success.
Vetter said the group does not focus just on historic buildings. He said it has also funded projects involving old rail cars, a light house, and a row of trees in Indiana.
“We are always amazed at these small communities and how they come up with the money they do to save a piece of the past for the residents of the community in the future.”