WHEATON – One of the most familiar sights for many who frequent downtown Wheaton is a cheery man on a four-wheeled bicycle honking and waving at passersby.
"Anyone who spends any time in downtown will recognize Keith and his bike," said Mayor Michael Gresk.
Keith Grogan is a local special needs man who suffered an accident in his youth leading to oxygen deprivation and brain damage. He can often be seen riding his bike, complete with several American flags, a horn and a beat-up sign saying "Honk if you love Jesus" on the back.
"He's practically a landmark of Wheaton," said friend, fellow parishioner of First Baptist Church and Franklin Middle School teacher Dan DuPree. "He's on that bike just about every single day of the year. It's his transportation."
DuPree, who has worked as a bike repairman, and Doug Jones, the owner of Midwest Cyclery in Wheaton, have spent hours upon hours trying to keep Grogan's bike in usable condition. They've done everything from replacing the tires to customizing his brake systems to a full repair after the bike was stolen last summer.
"Every policeman in the area knows Keith, and within a day or a day and a half, it was found again," DuPree remembers.
But now the bike has fallen so deeply into disrepair that it is more of a high cost hazard to Grogan than it is an effective mode of transportation.
"The bike is past its usability," DuPree said. "One day he's going to hit a bump and it will just crack in half."
His current bike was donated by his former church, College Church in Wheaton, but Jones says that it just wasn't built to withstand the constant use that Grogan puts it through. So he and DuPree got together to find a new one. Now they have settled on a bike and want to give it to Grogan.
"We have it spec'd out for all the amenities Keith needs, one brake lever, internal gears, light weight so he won't have to struggle uphill," Jones said. "It's a great bike."
That customization – which will require the manufacturer to change its production line to accommodate the quad bike – comes with a high price tag, at $5,000. Those close to Grogan have decided to set up the Keith Grogan Bike Fund. First Baptist will begin collecting tax-deductible donations July 23. Midwest Cycler has already collected $2,000 towards the purchase.
Grogan lives alone and is unable to hold a job due to his disability. Those close to him say that his bike lets him get out into the world.
"It's $5,000," says First Baptist Pastor Mike Rowe, "But for Keith, it's like a used car. He uses it all the time, rain or snow or shine. It's his key to freedom and self-sufficiency."
DuPree said that Grogan's constant optimism and friendliness is what has made him such a central part of the Wheaton community. He points to some of Grogan's many "Keith-isms," including DuPree's favorite – "You can be bitter, or you can be better." That commitment to being positive is what is so inspirational.
"He had a tough life," he said. "He's had so many setbacks, but he still bring happiness wherever he goes."