Like the storied Spanish literary hero, Don Quixote, Betty Keller Timmer of Millstadt is tilting at windmills although hers are painted on the old water tower she is trying to save.
She is the leader of the Friends of the Old Millstadt Water Tower and they have been working since 2013 to save the old water tower. It rises high above the town at the corner of Breese and Madison streets, unused for years, with rusting and peeling white paint.
But Timmer doesn’t see a useless eyesore, she sees a renovated, sandblasted and painted tower that would remain a symbol of the village that can be seen for miles around.
To save the water tower, the group needs to raise $200,000 by June 2021. It has raised $84,500, or 42.5 percent of its goal.
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She remains optimistic that the group will reach its goal. After all, they were given only two months to raise the money when they first started. Then that deadline was extended to 2018, then 2021.
The tower went up in 1931. The 100,000 gallon tower, nicknamed “The Tin Man,” originally was painted an aluminum color and then blue. It became off-white at the next painting more than 20 years ago when the Millstadt logo was added.
At one time the tower had arrows on top to aid airplanes trying to find Scott Field and a red warning light added in 1939 by workers of the Works Progress Administration.
The tower made the top 10 endangered places of Landmarks Illinois in 2014.
Besides towering over the town, the tower has been ingrained in the community in another way. Fundraisers for the water tower, everything from bake sales to trivia nights, have become eagerly awaited yearly events in the community.
On Sept. 29, the group will hold its Fourth Annual Classic Car Show at Mertz Ford.
“The car show is big,” Timmer said. “We have learned a lot about how to run one and made money through the years.”
The group has about 15 members but volunteers come flocking when they hold a fundraiser, she said. An example is the annual trivia contest held in March where dozens of people donate time to help.
There also is a bowl-a-thon and carriages rides through historic Millstadt which proved popular recently.
The group leaves no dollar unquested for.
“We have checked into about everything suggested to us,” Timmer said. “Someone suggested we pool our money and play the Lottery every week.”
They would love that kind of a big break but sometimes money does come out of the blue.
“Recently we had two gifts that totaled $3,500, Timmer said. “But grants have gotten scarce and hard to find. We don’t qualify for a lot.
“What we run into a lot of times is that we are a small community without a lot of businesses. National businesses that try to help want to do it in towns they are located in. We don’t meet their criteria.”
They did get some help from the Modern Woodmen insurance organization and from redeemed labels at the local IGA. A local engineer also volunteered his services to conduct a structural inspection and certified the tower was sound.
“We’re beating all the bushes,” Timmer said. “We’re trying events that seem to interest different groups.”
The group even latches onto ideas that are time-tested but not exactly big money events and makes them work.
“We have very good bakers,” she said. “Our bake sale raised $1,700. It was the mother of all bake sales.”
There is more information and save the water tower merchandise available at the group’s website at millstadtwatertower.org.
“We’re beating all the bushes,” Timmer said. “We’re going to stay out here and keep trying. It’s a marathon not a sprint.”