SUBMITTED PHOTO Beth Vander Wilt and family visit the sculpture honoring Keith Vander Wilt on Mother’s Day weekend. (Left to right) Heather Foote, Keith’s daughter, holding Eagle Keith Foote, Keith’s grandson. Beth Vander Wilt holding Sadie, their rescue dog. Dan Rohner with wife Emily Rohner, Keith’s daughter.

“Play Ball” sculpture now honors man who passed from cancer


The family of Keith Vander Wilt knew they wanted to give back to Jefferson after receiving both emotional and financial support from the community after his passing in 2022 of brain cancer. 

Beth Vander Wilt, Keith Vander Wilt’s wife, decided to use the funeral fund of donated money to purchase the sculpture “Play Ball” from Colorado-based artist Damian Radice, which is now displayed at PAWS Animal Shelter. 

“For me personally, it’s a way to give back to the community because honestly, they helped through my husband’s cancer,” Beth Vander Wilt said. “This honestly is a way for us to thank the community for all they did for us.”

Beth Vander Wilt said there were also community donations for his medical bills and a meal train every night for the month he was hospitalized. 

Adding a statue of a dog at an animal shelter was what the family thought would be the perfect memorial as they have rescued two dogs. Beth Vander Wilt also referenced the mural on PAWS’ exterior and said her husband loved to support local art and culture by attending art exhibits and plays. The title “Play Ball” also stuck out to Beth Vander Wilt, as Keith Vander Wilt was a basketball coach.

“My daughters and I felt that it was so fitting to use the memorial money to buy something that was not only a beautiful piece of art, but also shows our love for rescue dogs,” Beth Vander Wilt said.

The “Play Ball” sculpture was previously displayed in Jefferson. Radice’s sculpture was one of the winners of the Ring Out for Art contest in 2023, displayed in front of the courthouse from May until October. This entry was submitted on the last available day to Deb McGinn, Tower View Team chair. Later that same day, Beth Vander Wilt contacted McGinn about finding a way to honor Keith. 

As soon as McGinn heard the family was looking for a memorial, she knew the sculpture she had just seen would be perfect. She was able to connect the family with the Colorado-based artist to purchase and make Jefferson its permanent home.

“I’m sitting here looking at these photographs that Damian Radice sent us, and the light bulb kind of went off, this does it all right here,” McGinn said. 

The sculpture also has a plaque with a quote from former professional baseball player Henry “Hank” Aaron.

“In playing ball, and in life, a person occasionally gets the opportunity to do something great. When that time comes, only two things matter: being prepared to seize the moment and having the courage to take your best swing.”

The Vander Wilt family also hosts an annual golf tournament in May at the Jefferson or Grand Junction golf course in honor of Brain Cancer Awareness Month.

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