Omer Knoll, 86, of Palco, points to the area of his roof that was ripped off in a recent storm. A donor paid for his roof repairs after his insurance company of 22 years canceled after a late payment.

By CRISTINA JANNEY
Hays Post

PALCO — Omer Knoll, 86, was hunkered down in his small trailer home one recent spring night when a storm carrying winds of up to 70 mph whipped through the streets of Palco.

“The night that it happened,” he said. “It was a strong wind from the north. I could hear something terrible. I knew something bad was going on.”

The storm ripped his trailer’s roof off, leaving a large chunk in his yard and another piece across the street in the neighbor’s yard.

“I was scared,” he said.

Knoll quickly got on the phone to his insurance company, Foremost, a Farmer’s Insurance Company, and asked about his coverage. The representative assured him the damage would be covered.

On the day the construction crew arrived with materials to fix the roof, he called the insurance company again to make sure the work would be covered. 

The insurance company told him his coverage had been canceled because of a late payment and the $7,000 cost of fixing the roof would not be covered.

Omer Knoll, artist, talks about one of the many art pieces displayed in his trailer in Palco. This statute depicts his grandfather, who was a Volga German immigrant from Russia who settled in Victoria. 

Knoll lives by himself in Palco, a farm community of about 277 people in Rooks County. He and his wife, Mary, the love of his life, moved to the small community 22 years ago so Mary could care for her mother.

At 62, Knoll helped organize the Palco Volunteer Fire Department, serving as chief.

Knoll is a cancer survivor, but his mother-in-law and wife have both died, leaving Omer alone in the trailer with his two cats, Queeny and Sweety. 

Knoll’s enclosed porch is its own tiny art gallery, housing bronzes, plaster busts, pottery, paintings and drawings from his career as an artist. Knoll has a story for each bust — the person, the production, the final home of the finished piece.

You may recognize his busts of Dr. Michael Debakey at HaysMed or of Leon and Albina Dreiling, which can be found at NCK-Tech, the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center and Ellis County Historical Society.

Omer Knoll of Palco was a successful sculptor for years. He still dreams of having a permanent gallery for his art in his hometown of Victoria.

Knoll, a native of Victoria, said he doesn’t get many visitors. His nephew, Corbin Knoll, visits occasionally and tries to watch over his aging uncle. Omer’s son lives in Arizona and helps with the bills now and again when his Social Security and small veteran’s benefits don’t quite stretch far enough.

Knoll still drives his 2009 Corolla, the best car Mary ever bought. He drives himself to doctor’s appointments or to the bank in Plainville, 16 miles away, since the bank in Palco left.

Knoll said he had been insured with the same company for all 22 years he has lived in his little Palco trailer. It’s not much, he said of the trailer, but it’s paid for.

Hays residents likely have seen larger busts Omer Knoll created on display at HaysMed, NCK-Tech, the Ellis County Historical and the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. However, Knoll also spent two years creating these small bronze figures of German immigrants like this “Accordion Player” in honor of his Volga German ancestry. 

Knoll pays his $194 quarterly insurance bill by mail, but when the last payment came due he was trying to organize a trip to Hays to get his first COVID shot through a clinic sponsored by the VA. Corbin said his uncle had a mild reaction to the shot and wasn’t feeling well for about 10 days.

When Knoll got the news the insurance company wasn’t going to cover his claim,  he was angry and disappointed.

“I was feeling bad,” he said.

His roofer, a local man, stepped into the trailer and slipped him a note. A local woman had volunteered to pay the cost of the roof repairs.

“I was dumbfounded,” he said.

As Knoll related the story, he let out a deep sigh. “Thank God,” he said. “All I could think of was ‘Thank God.'”

The Hays Post attempted to contact the donor and did not receive a return phone call. Knoll knows his benefactor. He said he has not had the opportunity to thank her in person, although he hopes to do so soon.

Corbin said he was very disappointed the insurance company canceled his elderly uncle’s insurance after one late payment, but he was very appreciative the donor stepped forward to help Omer.

The Hays Post also attempted to contact Foremost, the insurance company. A company spokesperson had not responded at the time this story was posted.

Knoll said he did not know what he would have done if the donor had not come forward to help him with the repairs. He didn’t have the funds on his limited income to pay for the repairs himself and would have been unable to stay in his home without them.

Knoll did not renew his policy with Foremost. He has gone with another insurer that he said is offering him a better policy at a cheaper rate.

Even at 86, Knoll has dreams for his future and the situation with his roof has not discouraged him. He would like to find a more permanent, public home to exhibit his and his wife’s art, hopefully in his hometown of Victoria.

“I think one of the reasons why my mind stays active is because I’m always dreaming,” he said. “I’m always hoping. I’m not giving up.”

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