A wounded veteran went to Polo for dinner on Sunday, but ended up with a large donation benefiting himself and his family.
United States Marine Corps Lance Corporal James Poggi, Somonauk, got a call last week from some friends with the Dogs of War Marine Veteran Motorcycle Club about coming to Chesty P’s, 104 E Mason St, for some dinner and a get-together.
Unbeknownst to Poggi, however, friends had secretly arranged for a handicap van to be waiting for him, donated by brothers Jeff and Patrick Donaldson, Polo.
Due to injuries suffered in 2010 while helping land a malfunctioning V-22 Osprey helicopter in Afghanistan, Poggi developed spinal meningitis, rendering his left foot useless.
The lower part of his left leg was amputated May 2, making everyday living and working a great challenge.
Word of mouth and the love of friends, however, would come together to bring the family a timely boon.
During U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller’s birthday celebration on June 24, the third such annual event hosted at Chesty P’s, Paul “Tango” Bowker supplied fliers in support of a veteran’s fundraiser and bike show coming up Aug. 19 in Belvidere.
The fliers outlined hardships the Poggi family was suffering: their home was not accommodating to his mobility, requiring it to be sold, and the family vehicle was currently broken down.
One of the men who read the flier was Polo Street Superintendent Kendall Kyker, who was no stranger to the sacrifice service brings; his stepson, USMC Staff Sergeant Justus Bartelt, was killed in Afghanistan on July 16, 2010.
“I haven’t served myself, but my stepson did, and they all mean the world to me,” said Kyker. “If there’s any way I can help a Marine, I will.”
Kyker immediately approached Bowker with a request: “Do you have time to take a three-block ride?” he asked, and the two made their way to Jeff Donaldson’s home.
Donaldson’s mother, Betty, owned a red 1999 Ford E-150 van, with motorized tri-folding power lift, a wheelchair-accessible driving console, reduced-effort steering, and other handicap-friendly amenities, which she used to go to and from work at the Village of Progress, 710 S. 13th St., Oregon.
She retired in 2014, and died in November of 2016. The van has been maintained under Jeff Donaldson through power of attorney.
Kyker and Bowker looked at the van with Donaldson, talking briefly about whether or not they would be willing to sell it, before parting ways.
“We went back to Chesty P’s after that, and within a half hour, the Donaldsons showed up,” said Kyker. “They said, ‘it’s yours, we’re donating it.’”
“I think this was a fabulous thing,” said Deb Mumford, Betty’s sister-in-law. “She’s smiling down on us right now.”
With the details worked out, Poggi and his family were called down to meet the club at Chesty P’s Sunday evening, and once there, were presented the van by the Donaldsons in front of his veteran motorcycle club family.
“I thought I was just coming for dinner,” said Poggi. “This is life-changing, I can’t believe this is happening.”