RACINE -- FOX6 News stopped by the Hiawatha Bar and Grill on Durand Avenue near Wisconsin Street in Sturtevant Wednesday, Sept. 11, where a mural was being painted on the side of the business in honor of Racine Police Officer John Hetland -- at a place where he was loved by employees and customers alike.
Officer Hetland died protecting others. He was shot during an attempted robbery at Teezers Bar near 20th Street and Lathrop Avenue on June 17 -- while the officer was off-duty.
Tammy Graceffa, the owner of Hiawatha Bar and Grill, said she wanted to ensure the legacy of Hetland, a loyal patron and friend, to live on in the community, and thought this mural would be a great start.
"Sometimes you look over your shoulder and think you caught a glimpse of John," said Graceffa.
Graceffa said Officer Hetland stopped by for a meal hours before he lost his life.
"For a lot of us, just to know he won't be walking through the door..." said Graceffa.
Nearly three months after his death, Graceffa recalled his relentless sense of humor, and said she decided he should continue to be a part of her establishment through the mural.
"He liked to tell jokes," said Graceffa. "Play jokes on you. Just a lot of fun. You get a puddle of tears, and you work your way through it, as a way of dealing with the grief."
The mural's artist, Jeff Vlieger, said he felt honored to work on the project.
"It's like building a train," said Vlieger. "This piece, this piece, this piece."
The concept for the mural was a train breaking through a brick wall, with an image of Officer Hetland and his badge number among the finishing touches.
"Everybody knew the guy," said Vlieger. "He was a great guy."
Officials set a goal of Sept. 21 for the mural to be finished -- in time for a fundraiser for Officer Hetland's children.
"We all just love him, and we miss him terribly," said Graceffa.
The man accused of killing Officer Hetland, Dalquavis Ward, 26, pleaded not guilty to charges of first degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a felony on Aug. 7. A jury trial was scheduled for February 2020.