Friends and family of retired Springfield Police Officer Mark Priebe turn out to support his new home built by the Gary Sinise Foundation

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 8:03 PM CDT
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REPUBLIC, Mo. (KY3) - Supporters of retired Springfield Police Officer Mark Priebe met on Tuesday to celebrate a new home for Priebe and his family. It’s being sponsored by the Gary Sinise Foundation, which helps veterans and first responders hurt in the line of duty.

On June 9, 2020, Priebe was intentionally run over outside the downtown Springfield Police Headquarters. He suffered rib fractures and a broken back that paralyzed him from the waist down.

After surgery and specialized spinal cord injury rehabilitation in Colorado, Priebe returned to Springfield to be with his family, but because his home wasn’t wheelchair accessible, he had to stay in a handicapped-accessible hotel room. The family lived apart while modifications were made to their home, but he continues to face daily mobility challenges.

During Priebe’s time in Colorado, he learned about the Gary Sinise Foundation.

“Somebody reached out to my wife and told her about the foundation, although we already knew about how they helped veterans,” Priebe explained. “But I had no clue about the R.I.S.E. program where they build these adaptive homes for not only veterans but first responders. So we started the application process while we were out in Colorado, and it’s turned into having another family.”

The mortgage-free smart home that the Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program is building for the Priebe family features an open floor plan with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. It is fully equipped with smart technology and is still under construction, with an expected completion date of later this year or early 2024. Construction of the new smart home is made possible through monetary and in-kind donations from various national partners, sub-contractors, and the American public.

This is just the latest chapter in a long road to recovery for Priebe, who retired from the Springfield Police Department to work as a safety specialist for the Republic school district.

On Tuesday, Mark and his family were given a police escort to their new home just outside Republic, where around 200 family and friends were there to greet him, including members of the foundation, which was founded 12 years ago by award-winning actor Gary Sinise.

“The R.I.S.E. program stands for Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment, and it’s through that R.I.S.E. program that we build these custom smart homes,” said Scott Schaeperkoetter, the R.I.S.E. Director of Operations. “The goal is to make the lives of our veterans and first responders much easier in their homes where they should be the most comfortable. Mark’s home is wide-open to make it real easy to get around in his wheelchair. The doorways are wide, and he will have technology available to him to help him restore his independence. He can turn lights on and off, raise and lower the shades and have access to the thermostat.”

“Definitely, this new home will give me more access,” Priebe agreed. “Right now, I don’t have access to our entire house in the home that we’re living in. I can’t go in my kids’ rooms or their bathrooms. We have an upstairs area. So this new house will allow me to go anywhere outside or inside and pretty much do anything without having to ask for help which is going to be amazing. And my kids are going to enjoy it too because I don’t have to ask them to get up and help me with stuff.”

For a man who almost lost his life, it’s the simple pleasures that Priebe is looking forward to in his new home.

“Just sitting there on that back porch and looking out on the open field and enjoying the fireplace,” he said. “Just hanging out with friends and family. I’m really excited for that.”

And in a way, all those in attendance on Tuesday will also be there.

As part of the show of support, the foundation asked everyone to take part in a “Walls of Honor Ceremony,” where they write encouraging messages on the home’s interior framework with a Sharpie pen.

One family drove from Cole County to sign the wall in memory of a deputy who had passed away.

And this message pretty much said it all: “May your troubles be less and your blessings be more...and nothing but happiness comes through your door.”

Eventually, all those messages will be covered up as the home construction continues, but ...

“Those words of encouragement will always be with them right behind that Sheetrock,” Schaeperkoetter said. “We want to make sure he knows that what he did is not forgotten and that we appreciate so much his service to this community.”

“Your home is important to you, and this is just going to make it even more of a home, having all these personal touches and notes that we know are here,” Priebe added.

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