John Conrath is a man who helps others, and one who found himself needing help after surgical complications left the Marine veteran unable to work.
"He was going to take a little R&R and recover from his hip surgery before returning to work, to a gainful career he had with a trucking company," friend and fellow motorcycle rider Mike Cozzi said.
Conrath's hip replacement surgery last January left him with nerve damage and with his left leg completely without sensation below the knee.
"When I came out of the surgery, they did a body check and there was nothing from the knee down," Conrath said.
This left Conrath unable to drive the rigs he had for the last 12 years. He was let go that March.
"I'm unemployable right now," he said.
It was a new position for Conrath, who now walks with canes and with his left leg in a brace. He was always the one who helped others, organizing and participating in fundraisers for other veterans and motorcycle riders who needed help.
Now it was his turn. And the help he needed came not from his hometown of Joliet, but from Mokena.
Motorcylists and Veterans
In 2008, motorcyclist and veteran Bob Metzger had a bad crash. Metzger and his wife Chris were having a hard time.
"My heart just dropped," Conrath said.
Conrath helped organize a fundraiser to get the Metzgers get through that rough patch. It was just one of the fundraisers, charity runs and veterans events Conrath has helped organize.
"That's what the motorcycle community is all about, helping each other" Conrath said.
When Conrath was the one in trouble, the Metzgers and other members of the veteran and motorcycling communities rallied. They organizes a Mokena VFW fundraiser Saturday night for the man who had helped them so often before.
"We do these things in Mokena because Mokena gets it," Chris Metzger said. "Better than anyone."
To get a sense of the size of the crowd that stormed the VFW to help Conrath Saturday night, more than 500 pieces of the chicken donated by Aurelio's were gone within the first hour, Chris Metzger said.
But among the hundreds who came out to support him, Conrath saved the highest praise for one—his wife Sharon.
"I have an angel in my life that I don't know how I would have made it through this past year without her," Conrath said in a tearful speech to the assembled crowd. "She's truly been everything to me. And if you've got one like this, hang on to her. That's all I can tell you is hang onto her really strong and hard, because without her I don't know where I'd be."
Watch video of Conrath's speech attached to this article.
Conrath is a member of the Christian Motorcycle Association and the American Veteran Motorcycle Riders Association, both of which gathered people and funds for Saturday's fundraiser.
Aurelio's donated the food. The Mokena VFW donated the space. Chi-Town Harley-Davidson and Chicagoland Truck Parts co-sponsored. Other local businesses donated the raffle prizes that will hopefully help the Conraths make it through this rough time.
It's still strange for the man who had always helped others.
"For me to be sitting in the same situation three, four years later," Conrath said. "Sitting around with family and friends, I'm totally overwhelmed. I'm blown away."
To find out more about how to help John and Sharon Conrath, call Chris Metzger at 708-261-5640.