GERMANTOWN - To make his point, Dick Vanderheiden just help up his hands in front of him while he sat behind his desk at Dick's Body Shop, W154 N11412 Fond du Lac Ave., which he has owned and operated for 30 years.
"I don't really talk much about what I do; I just use these," he said.
Germantown Police Chief Peter Hoell personally nominated Vanderheiden for the Germantown Area Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year award.
"Dick has done so much work behind the scenes, without taking recognition, supporting different community projects," Hoell wrote in his nomination letter to the Chamber. "Not many people know how much he has actually given."
Vanderheiden's story in Germantown starts in 1983 when he opened his shop, the same year the Chamber began honoring residents with the Citizen of the Year award.
He officially moved to the community three years later from Jackson with his wife.
Not long after establishing his business, he became active in the Germantown Fire Department, where he has worked as an on-call firefighter for 23 years.
"Dick has also dedicated his life to the Germantown community by serving with the Germantown Fire Department," Hoell said. "Dick has held a variety of ranks and positions from firefighter EMT to deputy chief. There seldom is a fire call where Dick is not at the scene. With that many years of service with the fire department, there is no question that we can safely say that he has helped hundreds of people. I can also state that on behalf of the police department, he is always a pleasure to work with at an incident because he is the example how inter-agency cooperation works."
Vanderheiden routinely uses his automotive knowledge to help the police investigate vehicle-related crimes.
In 2015, Vanderheiden helped bring the suspect in a homicide case to justice by doing investigative work, completely voluntarily.
"One of the most important cases where Dick was a tremendous help was for a vehicle hit-and run homicide in 2015," Hoell said. "That same night of the homicide, Dick was able to identify the make and model of the suspect vehicle, which helped us locate the suspect vehicle the very next day. (It) ultimately resulted in a homicide conviction of the suspect driver. We could come up with countless investigations where Dick has helped us bring offenders to justice."
Vanderheiden took a piece of a car bumper when he was out on that call with the fire department and brought it back to his shop. He was able to run numbers that he located on the bumper and found the make, model and color of the vehicle for the police.
On Wednesday, April 22, Chamber Executive Director Lynn Grgich came into Vanderheiden's shop to tell him that he had won Citizen of the Year.
"I was speechless; to think that someone would give me this type of award is very humbling," Vanderheiden said.
The list of community projects Vanderheiden has had a hand in is lengthy: Every 15 Minutes, DARE, Neighbors Against Crime, the Germantown Little League, St. Boniface Church, the Germantown police and fire departments and more.
Vanderheiden plans to sell shop and retire no later than August.
"Now with his anticipated retirement in 2017 from the body shop, I cannot think of anyone more deserving, or of any better time to name Dick Vanderheiden the 2016 Citizen of the Year," Hoell said.
In his anticipated retirement, Vanderheiden said he hopes to golf and fish as much as possible. In fact, he keeps a hitting net in the shop so he can practice his swing in between fire calls, mechanic work and his ongoing community involvement.
Vanderheiden said he is so passionate about helping the community because the people in Germantown keep him going.
"There’s just a lot of good people in Germantown," Vanderheiden said. "There’s some people in Germantown that just need a little help, and I’m there to give it to them in whatever fashion I possibly can. I’ve worked with such great people; I can’t say enough about them. The people make Germantown special.”
The Germantown Chamber of Commerce will present Vanderheiden with his Citizen of the Year Award on March 29 at the Florian Park Conference & Event Center, N111 W18611 Mequon Road. The event is open to the public; for more information or to register, call the Germantown Chamber office at 262-255-1812.