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Marine veteran rebuilds cemetery wall hit by drunk driver

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — If you meet George Tillet, you'd be hard pressed not to have a laugh or two.

The 77-year-old is always cracking jokes and telling stories of his life.

"I'm getting old and slow so the only thing I do fast is fall down," Tillet said.

However, ne thing that hasn't lost its strength or speed is Tillet's sense of responsibility.

Three weeks ago, a drunk driver went off the road and crashed into the outer wall of Harlem Cemetery.

Tillet, who has served on the cemetery's board for the last decade, decided to take matters into his own hands to make things right.

Using his own money, Tillet bought the brick to rebuild the damaged wall.

"I'm just hoping to repay my debt and everybody will be happy," Tillet said.

Tillet is no stranger to service.

Marine veteran and martial arts instructor sit atop his resume.

There have been many people over the years Tillet has passed his ideals onto, including Ronnie Edgecomb, a former martial arts student under Tillet.

"My life turned around completely. I have self-discipline, self-respect for others respect for him, respect for my parents and teachers. It kept me out of so much trouble," Edgecomb said.

"I'm doing it for him and he's doing it for the community. If he needs help how can I not help."

Edgecomb is ready to stand by his 'sensei' for as long as it takes to restore peace to the cemetery walls.

"There's veterans in here. There's military of all branches. There's elderly there's young. He's here to put it back to the way it was before the drunk driver went through it," Edgecomb said.

"He's giving back to what the community has given him. He's paying it forward. Paying it forward out of respect."

This selfless behavior is par for the course for Tillet.

He doesn't ask for money, attention or even a thank you.

Kind acts like this just come from a desire to pay back a community that helped him become who he is today.

"It makes you feel like you belong. A sense of accomplishment, pride. I didn't really need anybody to come out and recognize me and thank me. I just wanted to do it."

George Tillet is a great example of never being too old to contribute.

We want your help to continue recognized amazing people in our community trying to change it for the better.

If you know anybody trying to make a positive impact, you can fill out a nomination form or email

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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