Fort Wayne, Ind. (WANE) Fort Wayne residents Jerry and Linda Vandeveer were married for more than 40 years. They worked together to rid their neighborhood of drugs and violence and they helped establish the Fort Wayne Law Enforcement and Firefighters Memorial at 1001 N. Wells Street. In late 2016 Linda died from colon cancer.
“When Linda died I had a couple options,” said Jerry Vandeveer. “Either grieve for the rest of my life and be miserable or do something to help the community and the people that Linda loved.”
Vandeveer chose to help the community by honoring one of his wife’s last requests. “She wanted to get the word out about colonoscopy and how such a simple little thing can save your life.” He got the word out with a pro-colonoscopy billboard blitz. “To this day people tell me I got my colonoscopy after being reminded by your billboards. They also contacted me on Facebook.”
Vandeveer is now honoring his wife’s second request. “So now two and a half years and 60 billboards later here we sit with another grouping of billboards that are going to start,” said Vandeveer.
“It’s a simple statement that says women are some of our greatest untapped resources. Just imagine.”
That statement sits on a billboard near the corner of Lafayette and DeWald Streets. It features his wife and former Fort Wayne Police officer turned corporate trainer Dottie Davis, a domestic violence survivor. Vandeveer plans to ask other empowered women to participate. He pays for the billboards out of his own pocket. “I do this to honor my wife.”
Not only does Vandeveer have a billboard campaign, but he and his wife also have an award named in their honor, the Linda and Jerry Vandeveer Impact Award. “Their selflessness, their sacrifice was just incredible in terms of the things they were doing for this community,” said Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters. “We started the award first giving it to them then in the years that followed it is now awarded to residents who do a lot in our community. Winners get a plaque with their name on it and also I believe a $250 stipend that is provided by an anonymous donor.”
Vandeveer likes to think he and wife have helped improve the community through one deed and one message at a time. “I put the signs up just to remind people who say I want to empower women. The more you see it when you’re driving around, the more you want to do something. My Linda wanted women to be empowered and so do I.”
Over the summer a total of six billboards with a statement to empower women will be put up in Fort Wayne. In addition to one located at Lafayette and DeWald Streets, another is also planned for Maplecrest and St. Joe Center Roads. Other locations will be decided soon.
Nominations are also being accepted for the Linda and Jerry Vandeveer Impact Award. The deadline to nominate someone is July 15th.