North Branch father donates carbon monoxide detectors in honor of his son

The crowded space inside William Sherk’s work van is stuffed with enough boxes to make a UPS driver sweat.

"I don’t think I realized how many I brought," said Sherk, the owner of Neighborhood Plumbing and Heating. "There’s got to be a thousand of them."

The seemingly endless stack of boxes is part of a personal promise, and Sherk is here to deliver.

"What we have is carbon monoxide detectors," said Sherk as he pulled a pocket knife out of his pocket and cut open one of the boxes containing the tightly fitted packages.

He’s donating the CO detectors to the Family Pathways social services agency in North Branch. It is his 11th year coordinating this life-saving drive. During that time, he distributed more than 11,000 CO detectors, all divided by a reason of one.

"This is my son, Keith," said the proud father as he held a framed picture of his son. 

Wearing a dark suit, polished shoes, sporting sandy blonde hair, and a high school prom date smile, it is a picture-perfect memory every parent holds for life. But this life was short. Keith Sherk was just 21 years old when he died from CO poisoning. It happened 20 years ago, but to his father, the pain is as fresh as if it happened yesterday.

"It was all accidental," recalled Sherk. "It could have been prevented with just one carbon monoxide detector in his little room."

Minnesota has had an up-and-down battle to prevent CO deaths. Minnesota Department of Health records show CO poisoning killed six people in 2021, the most recent year for which there is data. Encouragingly, that number is down. In three of the past five years, CO deaths have reached as high as 14. In 2013, they shot up to 18 deaths. 

It is why the Minnesota Legislature has passed a law requiring CO detectors in every home, one within 10 feet of every room used for sleeping. But CO detectors are often more expensive than smoke alarms, and they can be out of reach for economically challenged families.

That’s where Family Pathways comes in. The agency runs nine food shelves in eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, and it will make Sherk’s donated CO detectors available for its food clients for free.

"You know, a lot of families, when they use a food shelf and experience poverty, you’re really in a position where you’re kind of having to make tough choices about what to spend your money on," said Patrick Felker of Family Pathways. "And so being able to have these in our food shelves, providing to families not only keeping people healthy with our food, but keep them safe is huge for us."

Sherk still has more CO detectors he’s looking to give to nonprofits who may be willing to distribute to needy families. He’s encouraging them to email him at

It is a mission of safety grounded in the care of a father.

"I just want to make sure that everybody has a carbon monoxide detector," said Sherk.