WASHINGTON — Most drivers zipping along Illinois Route 8 probably don't see it.
There's a tiny veterans memorial on the corner of Route 8 and Theodore Street in Sunnyland that's become a passion project for former Sunnyland resident Sean Rennau.
He's leading an effort to raise $60,000 through monetary donations, grants, labor and other in-kind donations to construct a new memorial at the site, located across Route 8 from the Northern Tazewell Fire Protection District station.
"This is an all-volunteer project. We're looking for others who want to chip in," Rennau said.
The memorial doesn't have an official name. Right now, it's unofficially, the Bill Maher Veterans Memorial.
Maher, a Sunnyland pharmacist and community activist, paid for the construction and maintenance of the memorial, which contains the names of area veterans on a granite monument, a flag pole with a U.S. flag and two park benches.
The memorial has fallen into disrepair since Maher died in 2007 and Rennau said it no longer pays proper tribute to veterans.
Name plates are missing on the monument, the site isn't compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, the park benches are worn and not level, the flag pole is an old parking light pole with a make-shift pully system and lighting on the site doesn't work.
Rennau, 38, grew up in Sunnyland, an incorporated area between East Peoria and Washington, and graduated from Washington Community High School in 1998.
After moving back to Sunnyland from Chicago several years ago, Rennau noticed the memorial, which is less than 500 square feet in size, while he was jogging. He decided he needed to do something about it.
While doing research on the memorial, Rennau discovered his grandfather, who was a Korean War Navy veteran, once had a barber shop on the site.
"My motivation on this project is to give my grandfather and other area veterans the recognition they deserve," said Rennau, who moved to Germantown Hills in 2015.
Rennau said he's been talking with Sunnyland area residents and business people, East Peoria and Washington city officials, and Illinois Department of Transportation representatives for a few years about the project.
Last October, he decided it was time to move forward or scrap the project. He chose the former option.
A civil engineer and landscape architect, Rennau received support from his employer — Austin Engineering of Peoria — other area businesses, the cities of East Peoria and Washington, Sunnyland Business Association and Bradley University and designed a new memorial.
"Myself and my employer have more than 100 hours invested in the project but that pales in comparison to what our veterans have done for us," he said.
Rennau said he's designed a memorial that will have quality, low-maintenance, environmentally conscious elements and be up to code.
The site will have native plants, an underground storm water detention system that will benefit the plants, and an Academy Black Granite wall that will have engraved names of area veterans and reflect the words, "Freedom is not free" from an 8-foot-tall civic monument.
Rennau said he wants to use high quality building materials "to add life, lower maintenance costs and help ensure the memorial can be enjoyed by future generations."
An improvement has been done at the site thanks to Rennau's urging. A guy wire that ran from a park bench to a utility pole was taken down by East Peoria public works employees a few years ago.
Rennau said about 16.6 percent of the $30,000 in cash needed for the project has either been turned in or pledged.
People who want to make a monetary or in-kind donation for the memorial can do so in several ways: Rennau can be reached at email@example.com or 691-0224.
A veteran from East Peoria or Washington can have his or her name engraved on the wall for a $100 tax-deductible donation sent to American Legion Post 100, c/o Bill Maher Veterans Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 83, Washington, IL 61571. Checks should be made out to the Bill Maher Veterans Memorial Fund.
YouCaring and Facebook pages also have been set up.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.