STERLING – When Merlin Kropf lived in Sterling, he probably was as well known as the mayor, if not more so.
He would run around town and smile at passing motorists. He was known for his daily visits throughout downtown. One of his favorite stops was the fire station.
In 2006, though, Merlin, who is developmentally disabled, was hit by a car. He spent more than a month in the hospital, where he had two surgeries and physical rehabilitation.
Three months after the accident, he returned to his job at Selp Help Enterprises as a hardware assembler.
In February 2007, his mother, Betty Kropf, 75, died a few weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. Merlin, now 59, lived with her.
So where is Merlin these days?
After his mom died, his brother, Noland Kropf, took him in. They live in Moline.
“After my mom was diagnosed with cancer, which was shortly after Merlin had his horrific accident, I made a promise that I would take care of Merlin,” said Noland, a business manager for Smart Toyota in the Quad Cities.
The accident still takes its toll on Merlin.
“He still walks around, but he’s very limited about how far he can go,” Noland, 42, said. “He can go a block and a half. He also has had MS set in.”
Noland, a Sterling native, said Merlin always has a smile on his face.
“He is just a happy guy,” his brother said. “Nothing gets him upset.”
When word got around years ago that some teens were picking on Merlin downtown, many people became angry, but they never found the youths.
After moving to the Quad Cities, Merlin got a job at Skills Inc., which was similar to Self Help, but he decided to retire after state funding cuts forced Skills’ closure in 2009.
Plenty of people wonder about Merlin, Noland said.
“I get contacted on Facebook all the time about Merlin. I have all kinds of people asking me about him. He was as inspiration to the community.”