The Danville area and many of its organizations lost a good friend this past week with the death of Julius Hegeler II. However, his generosity will live on for generations.
The Hegeler family established a zinc smelting operation in Vermilion County in the early 1900s, and did quite well. Julius could have rested on those family laurels, but instead chose to enlist in the Air Force, becoming a jet fighter pilot during the Korean War and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross — the nation's second-highest military award — for his actions against enemy jets.
Returning home, Hegeler joined with others to start a factory that was known as Peterson-Puritan, and now KIK Products.
The wealth Hegeler accumulated was enough he could have chosen to live anywhere. But anywhere was not home. And he wanted to see efforts in his home area go well. So he used his wealth to benefit thousands of others. He started a cancer center at OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center in honor of his late wife, Bobette. He donated funds to Danville Area Community College to ensure the school could continue to offer its students the best education possible. And the list goes on.
Some of the other organizations that have benefited from the Julius W. Hegeler II Foundation are:
• Danville AMBUCS
• Vermilion County Conservation District
• Balloons Over Vermilion
• Danville Family YMCA
• Big Brothers Big Sisters of Danville
• WorkSource Enterprises
• Danville Public Library Foundation
• United Way of Danville Area
• Laura Lee Fellowship House
• Vermilion County War Museum
• Vermilion County Airport Authority
And he more than give away the funds. He stayed involved, often showing up to see how work was progressing or to watch a Danville Dans game at Danville Stadium where the new scoreboard was made possible by one of his donations.
One of the representatives of the Fischer Theatre called Hegeler the organization's "guardian angel" after he donated money to refurbish the building. After standing quiet for years, the theater will reopen to the public this fall.
Hegeler's generosity will live on for generations in the community he loved. We add our appreciation to that of many others for his efforts to make Danville a better place.