A Veterans Day call for and salute to volunteers

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Though honorably discharged from military service some time ago, Chad and Rhonda, a Winneconne couple, still feel called to serve.

So, they each have been doing whatever they can to help fellow veterans, especially the residents of the Wisconsin Veteran’s Home at King.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chad spent every Tuesday at King, having lunch with the residents, playing cribbage and cards, helping shuttle residents from building to building for activities, and taking them to the park.

While he cautions that volunteers must past a screening and background check, he encourages people, once virus-related restrictions are lifted, to treat themselves to regular visits with some really interesting people.

“If you go by there just to visit, you’ll find someone to talk to. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “The lady I visit doesn’t get too many visitors. She talks in a gruff whisper due to a traumatic brain injury, but her mind is all there. I would take her with me to be my partner in a cribbage tournament, no problem.”

Visiting and talking with veterans offers a reciprocal heart-warming opportunity as the veterans appreciate the companionship, and the visitors get to hear some fascinating stories.

“There is a resident at King who is missing both his arms and his legs. He spent some time in the Mekong River in Thailand, and he wasn’t supposed to be there,” Chad said.

Sometimes, those stories need a little loving nudge. The couple’s neighbor, also a veteran, did not talk about his time in the service for most of the 20 years they knew him.

“We knew he was a veteran because of his tattoos,” Rhonda said. “So, we would thank him for his service and he would cry and say there is nothing good to say about his time there. It took 20 years of being a good neighbor and Chad eventually asked him if he’d like to take part in an Honor Flight.”

The man eventually agreed to take part in a Korean War Honor Flight and the organizers arranged for him to sit next to his cousin on the flight. The following weekend, he brought an old photo album over to Chad and Rhonda’s house and began to tell them stories of his time in the service.

“With enthusiasm in his heart, he started to talk,” Chad said. “He finally felt like he had been welcomed home. The honor flight organization has really transformed veterans to where they want to share their stories.”

The couples’ connection to King began with an offer to help place some of the 6,500 Memorial Day flags on the cemetery stones there. It turns out, this is a massive community project with many enthusiastic hands of all ages.

“They begin placing the flags at 6 a.m.  We drove by at 6:25 and all those flags were already out. So may youth volunteer to help – Boy Scouts, citizens, everyone. It’s kind of a neat thing to observe,” Chad said.

That experience outside the Veterans Home, drew them into it, where they have met and befriended many residents.

“When I started volunteering at King I didn’t know anyone,” Rhonda said. “We were just given a hall and maybe some people on a list to go visit. I was kind of at a loss. Who do we talk to and what do we say? Some of them have medical issues and don’t speak at all. I remember one gentleman, we ended up spending several years visiting him. He was a big gentleman who wore overalls and most of his food. It took some time for us to be able to understand what he was saying. Still, we’d enjoy a cookie and a cup of coffee with him and, after a year or so, we could really understand him, and he seemed to appreciate that.”

“There’s something different when you can feel the joy they have just because someone stops to talk with them.”

There are plenty of ways to honor veterans from formal,  like monetary donations to the Wounded Warrior Project or directly to Veterans Homes, or more spontaneous, like thanking a veteran in line at the grocery store.

“Veterans as a whole could all use a thank you,” Chad said.

You can send a card or letter to a resident at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King using this address:

Wisconsin Veterans Home at King

c/o Donations Office or Nicholas Peskie

N2665 Cty Rd QQ

King, WI   54946