Continuing a program to aid Veterans that was the brainchild of his older brother, Chuck, Cyle Geertz told members of the Rotary Club of West Liberty about his work with the Healing at English River Outfitters (HERO) organization Tuesday, Nov. 10, as a Veteran’s Day program.
Geertz, who lost his brother in a motorcycle accident on Aug. 19, 2019, is one of the leaders of the organization that was formed in May, 2008 by Chuck Geertz, then a National Guard soldier for 23 years. Today, Geertz is on the five-member board along with Chuck’s wife, Janet, who is treasurer of the all-volunteer organization.
Geertz said his brother, who is 14 years his elder, came up with the idea in 2007 of opening a camp/hunting/fishing/hiking grounds for Veterans and their families, hoping to provide help for soldiers with ailments like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome), a mental problem that takes the lives of many military veterans via suicide.
The two brothers had served about 50 years combined in the National Guard, Geetz said his brother had a heart for fellow veterans, noting “someone needs to take care of our veterans.” Chuck bought just over 30 acres of wooded, swampy land south of Washington, Iowa and had a picture in his head of his dream that included a lodge, camp sights, cabins and all sorts of outdoor recreation, creating a place where veterans could go with their families at a “very reasonable cost.”
Geertz said Chuck built the complex with money from his own pocket while getting donations from organizations, corporate sponsors and individuals while getting the cold shoulder in finding financing for the project from the state or federal governments.
Cyle Geertz said the COVID-19 pandemic made going after donations or hosting fundraisers nearly impossible, but says he’s always promoting, taking more control himself of the project in the past year in his brother’s absence after having “minimal” responsibilities in the beginning.
Their goal was to offer a quiet, relaxing recreation area for our veterans and their families, with a particular focus on accommodating disabled veterans and serving Blue Star, Silver Star, and Gold Star families.”
The complex hosted just six veterans in the inaugural year on what was then a “very primitive site” with no buildings, electricity, indoor plumping or water. But over the next five years, there was “tremendous growth” that included a finished lodge that can accommodate 10 veterans, featuring a deck and patio with a fire pit. The grounds has numerous fishing ponds, trails and woodlands for hunting and hiking, now having served about 1,600 veterans.
They supply support and counseling for Veterans as well, figuring the organization has saved the lives of at least 60 former military members. Geertz said the next addition is adding campgrounds with electricity and water hook-ups as well as building a shower house to meet growing demands.
He said the goal is to eventually adapt the property to accommodate veterans with spinal cord injuries, adding a fishing dock as well as a confidence course to include a zip line. Among recent additions is a new lodge to host large events like weddings, group meetings, as well as family and class reunions. Geertz said there have been weddings on the property, which will be opened to the public sometime in the near future.
He said the organization is always looking for volunteer help as well as financial assistance, noting he doesn’t go anywhere without asking for aid. Geertz, who lives and has a business, Pike Ray Services in Nichols, said anyone interested in learning more about the non-profit mission should look the organization up on the Internet. Donations can be sent to Healing at English River Outfitters at P.O. Box 605, Washington, Iowa 52353.
“It’ll be an amazing venue when it’s done,” Geetz said.
Geertz was introduced by Rotarian Tom Carr, a supporter of the program.
In other business, Rotarians and other organizations and volunteers in the community are being asked to participate in the second annual Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign to begin in the community on Friday, Nov. 27 through Dec. 26.
Rotarians will be collecting Salvation Army donations from 4-8 p.m. this Friday at Giri BP as well as Jeff’s Market, both in West Liberty. Giri BP will also host the Red Kettle on Saturday from 5-8 p.m.
Anyone wishing to volunteer should contact Rotary President Bill Koellner or past president Gretchen Nollman.
For the Nov. 15 meeting, Rotarians heard a program by Burt Gearhart on “Eagles on the Mississippi River.” A data communications software designer and developer, Gearhart calls himself a student of photography, primarily shooting landscape and nature but hopes to learn portrait photography. He specializes in Eagle photography at Lock and Dam 14 on the Mississippi River in Le Claire and shared many of his pictures with members through the virtual meeting.
The Rotarians meet every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in a virtual meeting.