Nonprofit earns wings helping heroes' kin

Man whose idea led to its creation honored

Anne Arundel

January 31, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A fledging nonprofit established to help the families of emergency workers killed in the line of duty held the first of what is expected to be an annual recognition dinner last night, giving a surprise honor to a Glen Burnie man whose idea prompted creation of the organization.

Louis "Al" Brandt, 72, thought he was just another face in the crowd of invited guests at the Gibson Island Club dinner, but he ended up in the spotlight, honored by the One Hundred Club of Anne Arundel County for his community involvement.

The club was formed last year to provide financial benefits to families of volunteer or paid firefighters, law enforcement officers and other emergency personnel killed in the line of duty in Anne Arundel County.

"We care for those who care for us" is the motto of the club, the brainchild of the soft-spoken Brandt who, during more than four decades of community service, has worked to help the men and women who risk their lives for public safety.

He is co-founder of the Anne Arundel Alarmers, a 43-year volunteer crew that provides food and beverages to emergency personnel and has served as president of the Glen Burnie Kiwanis Club, where he has had perfect attendance for 45 years.

"All I did was suggest the idea. ... I feel like a quarterback. I threw the ball and Pete [Shaeffer] caught it and ran with it," he said in accepting his award. He got a standing ovation from the 150 people in attendance.

"This is our coming-out party, our introduction to the community," said Charles W. "Pete" Shaeffer, president of the One Hundred Club. "Clearly, there's a need for [the endowment fund]. All you need to do is read the paper."

Behind the headlines, said Shaeffer, are families struggling emotionally and financially to cope with the loss of a relative killed in the line of duty.

It doesn't help, he said, that it can take up to 90 days for beneficiaries of "fallen heroes" to receive state and federal death benefits. And frequently, he said, the benefits are not adequate when dependents such as a spouse with children are left behind.

"They have mortgage payments, credit card bills, clothing and college costs," said Shaeffer, a stockbroker. "It really doesn't cut it. If you look into what sort of benefits the family of fallen heroes receive, it's a real hodgepodge."

In Maryland, federal and state money would total $194,000, but club officials said that it is often slow to reach families.

The Maryland State Police have an immediate death benefit of $5,000 for troopers. Another group, Heroes Inc., provides an immediate $3,500 to the families of officers in the Washington metropolitan area, which includes Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

The One Hundred Club aims to provide immediate financial help within 24 hours to the families through an endowment fund for which the volunteer organization has so far raised $15,000, Shaeffer said.

Unlike other groups that offer support to families, the club plans to provide benefits to any fallen law enforcement official, from FBI agents to Marine police -- if the line-of-duty death occurs in Anne Arundel County.

The club began organizing in August and is a registered nonprofit with state and federal governments. There are several One Hundred Club organizations across the country, each with its own mission.

Anne Arundel club officials said they were inspired by the efforts of Crofton Police Department Cpl. David Muhl, who joined with two retired police officers last year to create a similar fund for Maryland officers killed on duty.

The One Hundred Club is named for its goal of having 100 charter members, each contributing at last $100 annually to the fund. Membership stood at 63 yesterday, and with its new nonprofit status, the club plans on taking in corporations for $500 a year and small businesses at $250 a year. It has also begun offering lifetime memberships for a one-time payment of $1,000.

At last night's gathering, Keith Wright, president of the Anne Arundel Country Professional Firefighters Union, Local 63, presented a check for $1,000 and challenged others to follow suit. "Firefighters can be very competitive," he said.

"There is a need for it," Lt. Joseph E. Jordan, a county police spokesman, said of the fund.

In the wake of a death in the line of duty, Jordan said, there is often paperwork that needs to be taken care of before a family receives benefits.

"We are very supportive of [the club]. Their heart is in the right place," he said.

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