Around BVA... 

 

Spudinators, Duffy Shine in Indy

 

Eight BVA members and five other veterans from the Boise, Idaho, VA Medical Center won a stunning 26 medals at the VA Golden Age Games in Indianapolis August 20-24.

“The ‘Spudinators’ literally wowed the crowds,” said VIST Coordinator and Coach Valerie Duffy.

Events in which the Spudinators won medals were their traditional specialty of bowling (visually impaired and ambulatory), nine ball, horseshoes, shuffleboard, and cycling. They also participated in swimming, dominoes, discus, and wheelchair shot put.

Help Hospitalized Veterans, a co-sponsor with VA of the event, gave Coach of the Year honors to Valerie for her roles and responsibilities, according to Games Director Dewayne Vaughn, as Spudinator coach, travel agent, chaperone, wardrobe coordinator, mentor, fund raiser, and cheerleader.

The Spudinators competed in their first Golden Age Games in 2004 in Fresno, California. Five blinded veterans, two spouses, and two coaches attended that year. By 2008 the group had grown to 13 participants, two coaches, two support staff, three spouses, one other family member, and one friend.

The group reached a new goal in fundraising for 2008, raising $16,000 while organizing raffles, root beer float sales, bake sales, preparation of a breakfast at VFW Post 63, and a Christmas bazaar. Several service organizations also helped the Spudinators reach their goal.

The group nicknamed itself “Spudinators” several years ago to publicize itself as a force to be reckoned with, said Valerie. Each year the team has received Idaho potato lapel pins from the Idaho Potato Commission to distribute at the games.

“Over the years, the pins have become a much sought-after keepsake for other veteran participants, volunteers, VA staff, airline personnel, and many others,” said Valerie. “Everyone wants to be pinned or, as we call it, ‘spudinated’.”

The Idaho Potato Commission has deemed the Spudinators their “goodwill ambassadors.”

Band of Brothers Announces Reunion

 

India Company 3/7 “Band of Brothers 1st Marine Division” will hold a reunion November 7-12 in Washington, DC. The reunion will include Veterans Day activities in the Nation’s Capital.

For additional information, contact reunion chairman Roger Villareal, 4201 Ember Lane, Deer Park, TX 77536, Home Phone 281-930-8161, Cell 832-573-7382, or via email address marine.1@att.net.

Illinois Vet Nets Oversized Trout

 
Rick Olson, Illinois Regional Group and President of the Hines BRC Alumni, took top honors for catching the largest fish on the last day of the fourth annual PFC Geoffrey Morris Memorial Governors Cup Fishing Tournament on Lake Michigan.

The mutant head brown trout measured some 34 inches in length and weighed approximately 16 pounds. It was the largest fresh-water fish Rick had ever caught.

BVA life member Rick Olson, left, with winning trout caught in Lake Michigan on June 29. At right, Johnny Williams.
BVA life member Rick Olson, left, with winning trout caught in Lake Michigan on June 29. At right, Johnny Williams.

“Believe it or not, there are actually some advantages to fishing without vision,” said Rick. “Because I go by feel and cannot see the bending line, I tend to be more patient and to refrain from fighting the fish while the sighted sometimes panic.”

Rich is a “semi-experienced” fisherman, having taken his family to sail fish outside Cancun, Mexico.

Although the fishing tournament as a whole took place over several days as a charity benefit tournament to help the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund, the 44 active duty military and medically retired veterans did their fishing on June 29.

Also participating in the tournament was Illinois Regional Group President Johnny Williams.

The tournament benefits the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund. It was named for Marine Private 1st Class Morris from suburban Chicago. Morris was killed in combat in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004 during some of the most intense fighting in the region.

Creative Fundraising for Silver State RG

 

A unique fundraising event on May 30 at the Italian-American Club in Las Vegas drew a big crowd and a greater likelihood of future enthusiasm among Nevada blinded veterans.

“It may have been a run-of-the-mill spaghetti dinner, but the entertainment is what put it over the top,” said Regional Group President Jim Kvool.

The evening’s hits for the 80-plus in attendance consisted of the Sun Country Cloggers, Three-of-a-Kind, and organ music supplied by the Keith Jorgensen Music Center from nearby Henderson. The three entertainment enterprises generously donated their time and talents in order to provide a fun and relaxing evening for the regional group. A full-sized sheet cake decorated with the Blinded Veterans Association’s name and a large U.S. flag was also popular.

“The biggest crowd pleaser, though, was an impersonation of Tina Turner,” said Jim.

He also said that regardless of the money that comes from fundraising efforts, the most important benefit is that families can enjoy food, entertainment, and social interaction together.

“Our goal is to entice more members to become active, attend our regional group meetings, and participate in all of our activities.”

Special Forces Men Finish Triathlon

 

Army Captain Ivan Castro, Operation Peer Support participant and two-time national convention attendee, completed a triathlon event July 26 at the 2008 State Games of the West in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Retired Master Sergeant Gilbert Magallanes also completed the event and snared a gold medal in the javelin throw.

Operation Peer Support 63rd National Convention attendees viewed an inspirational video produced by Visionalist Entertainment Productions that highlighted the effort of the two athletes. By that stage of the convention, viewers of the video were already familiar with their enthusiasm, determination, and effectiveness as spokespersons for service members who have recently lost their vision.

Ivan’s run, swim, and bicycle ride came to a successful close with an exclamation that his first triathlon would not be his last one. He hopes one day to compete in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. Both Ivan and Gilbert completed each event with the assistance of a different guide, one of which paired Ivan with the aforementioned USABA Executive Director Mark Lucas in the swimming competition.

Ivan was injured after mortar hit the rooftop where he was providing fire support to fellow soldiers during a battle with insurgents in Iraq in September 2006. He lost vision in both eyes and suffered a fractured arm, broken nose and cheekbones, collapsed lung, and amputated finger. He remained at Walter Reed Army Medical Center heavily sedated for six weeks barely able to stand and support his body weight at first. Little more than a year later, Ivan ran the Army 10-miler and the Marine Corps Marathon.

Gilbert served with the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell and was one of the first Americans to be deployed in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks. He was injured in December of that same year when an American 2,000-pound bomb fell on his unit, which was in a convoy escorting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in his travels. Members of his unit were killed and Gilbert was critically injured, spending 30 days in a coma and enduring a broken neck and back, loss of two fingers, a hole in his head the size of a golf ball, permanent kidney damage, and loss of most of his vision.

Richmond Volunteer Lauded for Service

 

Add the name Clyde Jackson, chaplain of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, to the list of BVA members who voluntarily give much of their time, means, and energy to serving others who so often desperately need them.

Clyde was recognized on May 2 at the Richmond VA Medical Center’s annual volunteer recognition luncheon for the 3,750 hours of voluntary service he had accrued as of September 30, 2007.

Left to right, Richmond VA Medical Center Director Michael Phaup, Volunteer Don Nelson, Assistant Medical Center Director Donna Curran, and blinded veteran honoree Clyde Jackson. Photo courtesy of Don Spragg, Richmond VA Medical Center
Left to right, Richmond VA Medical Center Director Michael Phaup, Volunteer Don Nelson, Assistant Medical Center Director Donna Curran, and blinded veteran honoree Clyde Jackson. Photo courtesy of Don Spragg, Richmond VA Medical Center

According to Janet Langhorne, Chief of Voluntary Service, Clyde is not only the designated VA Voluntary Service (VAVS) representative but also serves on the medical center’s VAVS Executive Committee, elected by his peers to this board of volunteer leaders.

“Clyde is a pleasure with whom to work, day in and day out!” said Langhorne.

“Operation Shoebox” Ships BVA Calendars

 

Florida Regional Group member Bill Geden and his wife, Nancy, Citrus County Coordinators for Operation Shoebox, arranged for 2,400 BVA calendars for 2008 to be sent to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan in late 2007. They plan to do the same later this year with the 2009 edition.

The couple made two separate deliveries of the calendars from their home in Hernando to The Villages, an upscale retirement community located about two hours away. One delivery consisted of 800 calendars shortly before Christmas while the other shipment in early February contained 1,600.

Operation Shoebox, an enterprise that also sent 31,282 Christmas stockings to Afghanistan last December, is the brainchild of Belleview, Florida, native Mary Harper. Amazingly, in 2003 Harper suddenly found herself with four children and a son-in-law all serving in Iraq at the same time. A year later, she had a fifth child go on active duty. Regularly, Harper started sending all of them shoeboxes filled with items that are often taken for granted at home—granola, crackers, cookies, magazines, toiletries, stationery packets, etc.

Email messages thanking their mother for the goodies often referred to comrades who did not receive letters, did not have much family support, and who desperately needed the type of items she was sending to them. With a sense of mission, Harper recruited friends and neighbors in Belleview and later moved the operation to The Villages.

In addition to BVA calendars and the other previously mentioned goodies, packages often contain items such as coffee, tea bags, lemonade, sugar packets, cold cereal, oatmeal, toilet paper, clothing, blankets, pillows, coffee mugs, games, CDs, flashlights, batteries, baby wipes, cameras, and toys for Iraqi children.

For additional information on Operation Shoebox, go to www.operationshoebox.com.

Geden to Lead Florida Parade

 

Bill Geden, mentioned previously for his work with Operation Shoebox, was unanimously selected earlier this summer as the Honorary Marshal for the 16th Annual Citrus County Veterans Day Parade to be held November 11.

The theme for the county’s Veterans Appreciation Week is “Honoring Citrus County’s Disabled Veterans.” According to Parade Coordinator Curtis Ebitz, the event’s coordinating committee selected Bill “in recognition of his dedicated service to his fellow veterans.”

As the Honorary Marshal, Bill and BVA will be featured in a special, full-page, two-sided Veterans Appreciation Week insert of the Citrus County Chronicle.

“Mr Geden’s inspirational example and persistent determination in serving his fellow veterans and community at-large not only merit his selection as Honorary Marshal but also reflect positively on both him and BVA,” said Ebitz.

Greater Houston Vets Win Gumbo Cook-Off

 

Three blinded veterans and their spouses from the Greater Houston Regional Group recently discovered that vision isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for cooking.

Just ask group president Ronnie Anderson and wife, Sharon, George and Martina Boe, and Herb and Rae Robchaux. They arrived just shortly after 8 a.m. at Clear Lake Park’s Landholt Pavilion in Harris County, Texas, with more than a dozen of the freshest ingredients possible to compete in a gumbo cook-off last spring. It was the first attempt at such a venture for this group.

The April 12 competition was part of the county’s Crawfish Festival to raise money for the upcoming Independence Day fireworks. In addition to the cook-off, the festival included a crawfish eating contest, arts and crafts booths, music entertainment, games for the children, and a silent auction.

“We started cooking the gumbo at 9:30 a.m., taking turns stirring the pot to give others a chance to enjoy themselves, to pass out literature about BVA, or to just talk with people, said Ronnie. “We spoke to many veterans who knew nothing about BVA and who were unaware of other benefits that may be available to them.”

“I can honestly say that none of us really had the slightest idea what we were doing,” said Sharon Anderson. “We had pre-planned the ingredients but not quantities. We just kept tasting and throwing things in, all the while realizing that we were up against 14 other cooking teams, in many cases very experienced teams.”

Sharon said that the gumbo consisted of five different types of seafood, four or five different vegetables, and at least six spices. Before they had finished cooking, there were eight gallons of gumbo in two different pots. At 2 p.m. the festival crowd began visiting each gumbo station for sample tastes. Official judges also stopped by the booth.

The group was encouraged by a few native Louisiana passersby who indicated that the blinded vet gumbo was every bit as good as anything they had eaten in their home state.

The judges’ decision did not come until 7 p.m.

“After 4th and then 3rd place were announced, I knew we’d had a fun day although we hadn’t won anything,” said Sharon. “We all went into shock when they announced that we had taken first place.”

Left to right, Ronnie and Sharon Anderson and Herb and Rae Robchaux, provide proof that perfect vision is not a prerequisite to drumming up near-perfect gumbo.
Left to right, Ronnie and Sharon Anderson and Herb and Rae Robchaux, provide proof that perfect vision is not a prerequisite to drumming up near-perfect gumbo.

Ronnie used the experience to his benefit three days later in speaking before a group of veterans.

“I showed them the trophy and told them it was proof that limits are what we place on ourselves, he said. “I told them that there is no limit to what a blind vet can do, given the chance.”

Ohio Group Offers Support to VIST


Members of the Ohio Regional Group recently made a donation to the Cleveland VA Medical Center VIST program to help out with activities in three different Ohio support groups.

“This is something we like to do on a regular basis and something we feel strongly that we should do,” said Regional Group Treasurer Dave May. “Hopefully, other BVA regional groups across the country are thinking of ways to be of greater assistance, financially or otherwise, to VIST Coordinators and their support group efforts.”

The donation was designated for activities in support of groups located in Akron/Canton, Parma, and Cleveland. The check was presented to longtime VIST Coordinator Ellen Papadimoulis just prior to her departure from the job to become the Supervisor of Outpatient Blind Rehabilitation at the Brecksville VA Medical Center. The new Cleveland VIST Coordinator is Marianne Crego.

White Cane Walk Scores in Ohio

 

Members of the Ohio Regional Group contributed to a resoundingly successful third annual White Cane Walk fundraiser in Westlake, Ohio, last spring.

Ellen Papadimoulis and Terry Kebbel at White Cane Walk fundraiser in Westlake, Ohio.
Ellen Papadimoulis and Terry Kebbel at White Cane Walk fundraiser in Westlake, Ohio.

The event, held May 31, was sponsored by the Cleveland Sight Center and included both the regional group and the West Side Visually Impaired Veterans Support Group. According to then Cleveland VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator Ellen Papadimoulis, walkers were of all ages—from children in grade school to boy scouts, high school and college students, and senior citizens.

“The Cleveland Sight Center did an outstanding job with this event!” she emphasized. “We all enjoyed distributing BVA literature and telling visitors who came to the ‘Veterans with Vision Loss’ table what VA and BVA have to offer.”

Staff members and volunteers of the Sight Center, as well as walkers, wore White Cane Walk tee shirts while offering enthusiastic explanations about the organization’s program and blind rehabilitation in general. An Orientation & Mobility Specialist explained the use of a white cane to the walkers before they were given a cane and blindfolded. He discussed how the white cane is used as a tool to enable blind individuals to travel independently.

“A Boy Scout troop leader later remarked how hard it was to stay oriented under a blindfold and expressed admiration for the blind and visually impaired who travel independently with a cane,” said Ellen.

The event, she continued, revealed the abundance of existing opportunities to share what blindness means and to educate fellow citizens. Although veterans in her support group know VA’s history in developing the use of the white cane and training programs for blinded veterans, most of the sighted world is largely unaware of such history.

“Promoting awareness about blindness is always noble, especially when it comes from blinded veterans. It was wonderful to consider how many blind persons use white canes today and how interested the public is in bettering its understanding of sight loss.