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Anniversary Activities Bring Old Farms History to Life

 

A member of the BVA Board of Directors, its Executive Director, and a founding member of the organization all participated in the 65th anniversary of Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital, birthplace of the Blinded Veterans Association just months after the hospital began operating.

Left to right, David VanLoan, Tom Miller, and BVA Founding Father Nicholas Palermo.
Left to right, David VanLoan, Tom Miller, and BVA Founding Father Nicholas Palermo.

A communitywide celebration, hosted by the Avon Historical Society and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3272, was held November 22 at the Avon Senior Center. Attending were Tom Miller, David Van Loan, and Nick Palermo. The latter of the three was one of approximately 80 blinded service members, only four of which are known to be still living, who joined together on March 28, 1945 for the meeting that formalized the beginnings of BVA. As such, Nick is considered one of the original BVA founders.

An invitation-only ceremony/school assembly was also held the morning of Veterans Day at Avon Old Farms Boys School, site of the hospital that housed and rehabilitated, from 1944 to 1947, 800 men blinded during World War II. The keynote speaker was David VanLoan.

The assembly was attended by the entire student body, faculty, former Old Farms Convalescent Hospital employees and volunteers, state and federal legislators, officials from Avon public schools, and veterans from VFW Post 3272.

The two recent events in Avon became a community effort. Old photographs were located and scanned from personal collections, magazines, and newspaper archives. Interviews were also conducted with residents who worked or volunteered at the hospital. In addition, students at Avon High School produced a video presentation made up of interviews with blinded veterans who had been a part of the hospital’s programs and embraced by the Avon community. 

The DVD was shown at the November 11 event at the boys’ school.

“These were inspirational events that I feel lucky to have been a part of,” said David. “Being right there where it all began for BVA, the commemoration events drove home to me the historic importance and almost miraculous nature of the organization’s beginnings—and the incredible foresight of our founders to institutionalize an idea that would help so many thousands of us far into the future.”

The two commemorative events at Avon were also referred to in a statement for inclusion in the Congressional Record by Representative Christopher Murphy (D-CT-5) on the House Floor on November 10.

The statement further referred to the generosity of Mrs. Theodate Pope Riddle, founder of the boys’ school who graciously and patriotically closed it in 1944 for use by the Army for $1 per year. Representative Murphy also mentioned the founding of BVA at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital.

Convention Planning Now in High Gear

 

BVA members and their families planning to attend the organization’s historic 65th National Convention in Washington, DC, are encouraged to begin preparing for the event now. The convention will be held on the outskirts of the Nation’s Capital at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia. The hotel stands adjacent to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

65th Convention attendees can look forward to a visit at sunset to the somber but sacred sights, sounds, and feelings evoked by the “Wall” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Kyle Nappi.
65th Convention attendees can look forward to a visit at sunset to the somber but sacred sights, sounds, and feelings evoked by the “Wall” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Kyle Nappi.

Dates are August 24-28, 2010. Room rates are $149 per night for single and double occupancy, $169 for triple, and $189 for a group of four.

“We are very excited about co-hosting the convention next year in the magnificent venue city that we are fortunate to call home,” said Mid-Atlantic Regional Group President George Hicks. “We will be a stone’s throw from Arlington National Cemetery, the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial, and we envision trips to each of those sites.”

George also mentioned the famed Purple Heart Path leading from George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon to downtown Washington. He referred to the convention’s proximity to VA Central Office as well. 

The Crystal Gateway Marriott is located in the Crystal City commercial and residential development of Arlington County. The area features more than 200 restaurants, stores, and hotels. Convention attendees may board the Metrorail system with the District of Columbia as their destination by walking through a wide tunnel and never having to step outdoors. Crystal City is home to one of the nation’s largest underground shopping centers and a host of ethnic restaurants, sidewalk cafes, and popular chain eating establishments, all within walking distance.

The Three Soldiers Statue, a structure facing the renowned “Wall” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Photo courtesy of Ana Fitzpatrick.
The Three Soldiers Statue, a structure facing the renowned “Wall” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Photo courtesy of Ana Fitzpatrick.

Delegates to the 64th National Convention voted to select a site in the State of Nevada, either Las Vegas or Reno, as the venue for the 66th National Convention in 2011. Several hotels in both cities and a variety of event dates are still in the running.

The ultimate decision for 2011 will be based on upcoming evaluations of the hotels against an established set of criteria. These evaluations will be conducted by the BVA Board of Directors and Manager of Conventions. 

Bidding for the 67th National Convention in 2012 is now open. Tentative bids already in place are from the following cities and their corresponding regional groups: Houston, Texas; San Francisco, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and San Diego, California.

BVA Scholarships to Assist Blinded Veteran Dependents

 

BVA will award six Kathern F. Gruber scholarships for the 2010-11 academic year, according to Brigitte Jones, BVA National Administrative Director. The six scholarships are valued at $2,000 each.

The BVA Scholarship Committee will also select three alternates in case any of the awards cannot be accepted once they are awarded.

Gruber scholarships are limited to spouses and dependent children of blinded veterans, but the blinded veteran in question does not have to be a BVA member. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit by the Committee.

The awards are for a single academic year of study. However, recipients can re-apply to receive them a second, third, or fourth time.

Requests for scholarship applications can be addressed to BVA National Headquarters, Attn: Kathern F. Gruber Scholarship Program, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. They can also be addressed to Keleeba Scott at 202-371-8880. Information and applications are also located at www.bva.org/news/.

Completed applications must arrive at BVA National Headquarters no later than Friday, April 16, 2010.

BVAA Announces Funds for 2010-11

 

The Blinded Veterans Association Auxiliary (BVAA) will award two Renee Feldman scholarships worth $2,000 and one worth $1,000 for the 2010-11 academic year. The scholarships are open to the spouses and children of blinded veterans and membership in BVA is not required.

To be eligible for a Feldman scholarship, the applicant must have been accepted at the school of his/her choice. The institution in question may be a vocational school, community college, four-year college, or university.

The fees in all cases are paid directly to the school and are intended to defray the cost of tuition, books, and general fees.

The application process for the scholarships includes supplying information about previous academic achievement, a statement of present goals and plans, a 300-word essay, and letters of reference. Completed application packets must be received no later than Saturday, May 1, 2010.

For further information and an application, available in early January 2010, contact Hazel Compton, BVAA Scholarship Chair, P.O. Box 267, Richlands, VA 24641, or by telephone at 276-963-3745. The materials are also available at www.bva.org/news/ and at www.margbva.org.

Lester Joins FSP Staff

 

Dr. Ron Lester is the new BVA Field Service Representative for Region III, replacing Jack Stanton. Based in Decatur, Georgia, Ron is responsible for the area encompassed by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The change was effective September 21, 2009.

Region III Field Service Representative Ron Lester
Region III Field Service Representative Ron Lester

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Ron attended Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning training at a vocational school for one year. He determined after a short time that it was too hot to spend summers in Oklahoma attics. He joined the Air Force in August 1964, planning to become an air conditioning technician.

The Air Force had other plans. There were no openings in his chosen field. The Service told him he was going to be a jet engine mechanic. After training in Texas, Ron was stationed at a base in New Mexico. The Air Force transitioned from the F-84 to the factory fresh F-4C aircraft during that time. In 1965, the planes began service in Southeast Asia. In January 1966, Ron’s squadron began a one-year deployment to Vietnam. Following his service at Cam Rahn Bay, Ron returned to the States and his new assignment at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.While testing for his driver’s license, Ron noticed that he had trouble seeing in the dark. He also had a problem with depth perception. The driving instructor recommended that he see an eye doctor, who said his vision problems were significant enough that he could get Ron out of his enlistment immediately. Ron never returned to the doctor and completed his service in 1968.

In October of that year, Ron went to work for the U.S. Postal Service in Oklahoma City. After ten months, he transferred to nearby Tinker Air Force Base as a mechanic. He worked on the assembly line for about eight months. When Tinker won the overhaul contract on the F-4 in 1970, Ron wanted to work in flight test.

is supervisor didn’t concur. Undeterred, Ron sought out the main supervisor and explained to him what he did while he was enlisted. The supervisor promised him, “You’ll be up here (in flight test) this afternoon.” And he was. This proved to be a great move because they needed people who could run the engines and check out flight control systems. Ron went from pay grade WG-8 to WG-11 in a matter of months.

Everything was fine until he was called in for a flight physical examination in 1974. The doctor told Ron he had high blood pressure but, before addressing treatment, he wanted to check his eyes. Ron immediately remembered his experience with the driver’s license test in the service. This time the doctor examined his eyes at length and brought in a colleague for a second opinion. He asked Ron where he worked. When Ron told him he was in flight test, the doctor replied, “Not anymore.”

Ron was referred to a specialist who informed him that he was going blind from a hereditary disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. The diagnosis ended his work on aircraft and he was subsequently retired on disability. Ron submitted a disability claim to VA that was originally at 70 percent and later increased to 100 percent since he was not employed.

Ron had been attending school while he worked. He eventually earned a B.S. in Business Management and completed specialized ministerial training. Over the next few years, he worked a variety of jobs in which his vision was not an issue. He spent seven years as a children’s church director. He also worked as a real estate broker and investor. In addition, he spent several years as a beekeeper.

Ron started work on his Master’s Degree in Education in 1985 and accepted a job as principal of a Christian elementary school near San Diego in 1988. During his tenure there, he learned about the services offered at the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center. He attended the Center for the first time in the summer of 1991.

Ron became a Senior Pastor in 1990 and served a total of 16 years at two southern California churches. He completed his doctorate in Educational Administration in 1999. While serving as pastor, he held the role of principal and administrator of a Christian pre-school and academy.

Upon his retirement from full-time ministry in 2006, Ron and his wife, Betty, moved back to Tucson, the city where they began their married life while Ron was in the military. VIST Coordinator David Clarke convinced him to become a National Service Officer.

He then assisted veterans in submitting more than 200 claims during the 16 months prior to his present appointment. Ron and Betty have been married 42 years and have two sons. Rob, the eldest, is a Gulf War veteran pursuing a degree in Education at the University of Arizona. James is serving as an Army chaplain currently stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. The couple also has eight grandchildren.

New Englanders Shine on “Don’t Count Me Out”

 

Vietnam era blinded veteran Bob Blanchard and World War II vet Lou Pells, the latter a BVA member, recently put their musical talents on the airwaves and in cyberspace with performances on two inspiring episodes of Don’t Count Me Out, a radio series of the Talking Information Center (TIC) Network and a television program of Marshfield, Massachusetts Community Television (MCTV).

The programs, taped on October 26 with the name Veterans’ Showcase, featured Bob’s country and western singing/guitar playing while Lou played the tuba. The two were joined by David VanLoan, Providence VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator Adele Geringer, and Providence Veterans Service Officer Randy Durrigan. The programs were broadcast on TIC on October 29 and November 11, and throughout November on MCTV.

Hosted by singers/songwriters Keith James and Sandy Streid, Veterans’ Showcase featured poignant songs, informative discussions, and personal accounts that included commentary from David, Adele, and Randy about BVA and its Auxiliary, VA and its services, and other resources available to veterans confronted with the challenge of vision loss. Keith performed “On the Wall,” a passionate tribute to veterans that was inspired by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Lou served in the Battle of the Bulge and now resides in Harwich, Massachusetts. He felt right at home during the taping of the program, having worked extensively as a professional in commercial radio. He currently plays the tuba in his “Oompah Band.”

Bob Blanchard of Central Village, Connecticut, served in the Marines in the 1960s. He has shared his richly textured voice in regular performances for the better part of 40 years.

The Don’t Count Me Out radio series can be downloaded at anytime, free of charge, by visiting www.ticnetwork.org and clicking on “Listen to Archives.”

Georgia Blinded Vets Walk on Hot Coals

 

Three blinded veterans from the Columbus Chapter of the Georgia Regional Group joined 85 other supposedly sane individuals in walking over a bed of coals burning at over 1,000 degrees last August 29. The feat was performed barefoot in front of a crowd numbering some 8,000.

Chapter President Joe McNeil, Deborah Kerr, and Clifford Jones, Jr. all took part in the action.

“This was all an exercise in affirming the idea of mind over matter,” said Joe. “I felt myself move from the grass up to the coals and then back to the grass, but I never felt anything else.”

Orientation for the fire walk took place in a brief session three weeks earlier. It was the only training provided. The walk was part of larger community gathering organized by Country’s Barbecue Restaurant’s Midnight Express Fund to benefit blinded veterans and other visually impaired persons in the Columbus, Georgia, community.

“People can do extraordinary things when acting out of a desire to help others,” said peak performance trainer Scott Goodnight, who led the amazing exhibition and prior orientation session. Goodnight is a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger who believes that facing and conquering fears allows individuals to experience a “breakthrough” that translates into positive changes in many areas of life and on many levels.

“My main goal for this event is to show people what is possible when you put the needs of others in front of your own,” he said. “The best way to get what you want and need is to help others get what they want and need first.”

Another mission of the fire walk was to raise awareness and proceeds for the visually impaired of the Chattahoochee Valley area.

After the 10 p.m. fire walk, Goodnight and a few other select individuals served as running guides for blinded veterans and other visually impaired individuals, including the aforementioned members of the Columbus Chapter, wishing to participate in the 29th annual Midnight Express 5K run, also hosted by Country’s Barbecue.

Goodnight admits to having had some challenging students over the years but that working with blinded veterans has been the most exciting and rewarding experience of all.

“What amazes me most is that working with visually impaired people is actually easier than working with people who can see,” he said. “A good part of my training is in helping people realize that their perception is not reality, which those without sight have already understood for years.”

Georgia blinded vets Joe, Deborah, and Clifford certainly validated that claim!

Teams Excel in Charity Walk

 

Two members of BVA’s New York Regional Group raised nearly $5,000 to fund sight-saving research through their participation in the 5K Long Island, New York, VisionWalk, held October 25.

Tom Bove, a resident of Farmingdale, New York, and Dennis O’Connell of Floral Park, partnered with family members in collecting pledges and preparing for the 10 a.m. Sunday morning walk on the Jones Beach Field 5 Boardwalk in the City of Wantagh.

“For a morning in the fall season, it was really nippy out there, the wind blowing off the ocean as we waited for the event to start,” said Dennis. “Fortunately, once we got on the boardwalk and the sun hit us, we warmed up pretty fast.”

Tom’s team, fittingly named Eye to Eye, consisted of an 11-person walking force. Dennis walked with his daughter Meghan, the two calling their team simply O’Connell. Under the walk’s guidelines, teams could consist of two members up to 2,000.

“I’ve shaved my head twice recently for a fundraiser on behalf of children’s cancer and decided to try something different,” said Dennis. “I did find my way back from the walk and was able to secure some generous donations from kind people who supported our efforts to help find cures for various eye diseases.”
The Long Island event fundraising goal was $150,000. It brought in approximately $97,000.

VisionWalk is the national signature fundraising event of the Foundation for Fighting Blindness. Since its inception in the spring of 2006, the program has raised more than $10 million to fund research for retinal degenerative diseases and other conditions. Tens of thousands of walkers have contributed to the cause in VisionWalks nationwide over the past three years.

 

BVA Member Honored by French Consul 


Glen Dill, a World War II blinded veteran from Iowa City, Iowa, and a BVA life member, recently received the Legion of Honor Award from the Consul General of France. The award was presented to Glen by Consul General Jean-Baptiste de Boissiere during a ceremony in Chicago on July 21. The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs also participated in the event.

“The reason BVA National would never hear about this, except from someone like me, is that Glen would not want it publicized or even necessarily known,” said Iowa City VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator Mike Owen. “Because of his modesty and unassuming nature, he is almost embarrassed to admit he received it.”

Glen was one of 11 World War II veterans honored at the Chicago presentation. He served in the U.S. Army’s “C” Company of the 745th Tank Battalion. In addition to his D-Day service, he participated in several campaigns in France. He has also been awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star, and two Bronze Stars, among other medals.

Founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the Legion of Honor recognizes eminent service to the French Republic.

BVA Promotes Services At FedEx Field Event


Tom Miller and Tom Zampieri distributed BVA literature and spoke personally with veterans participating in the second annual Timeout for Veteran’s Health November 7 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.

The event, in recognition of Veterans Day, was a unique screening and educational event in the Washington Redskins team locker room to encourage men and women military veterans to be proactive about their health. The theme was “Do More, Feel Better, Live Longer.”

Sponsored by the Redskins, GlaxoSmithKline, and other Health and Wellness partner organizations, the event provided veterans with a comprehensive series of health screening tests for cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis, blood pressure, prostate exams, body fat, grip strength, mammograms, and ocular exams. They also received health educational materials on various health conditions.

Veterans Service Organizations were allowed to set up informational tables in the tunnel extending from the locker room to the field of play.

Association Again Supports “Art Beyond Sight”


BVA was one of 200 organizations internationally that participated in Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month during October. It was the sixth consecutive year of the Association’s involvement.

The campaign, organized by Art Education for the Blind in New York City, is an international initiative to promote art by and for people with vision loss and other disabilities, and to encourage multimodal approaches to art education and creativity. It recognizes that art education and exposure to the arts are crucial for the advancement of key issues in the education and rehabilitation of people with vision loss and other disabilities.

Activities during the month included the third biennial two-day Art Beyond Sight International Conference on Multimodal Approaches to learning, a telephone conference crash course on art education, and dozens of exhibits, seminars, museum tours, and workshops organized by participating organizations worldwide.

For more information or to request a brochure from this year’s Awareness month, contact Stuart Nelson at BVA National Headquarters.

Convention Manager Offers Travel Tips


Based on recent research she has conducted, BVA Convention Manager Christina Hitchcock offers the following tips for blinded veterans traveling to upcoming conventions or who are using air travel for other purposes:

1. Pack medicines and other medical supplies in carry-on luggage. The strict limitation on gels and liquids does not apply to prescriptions or other liquids needed by persons with disabilities or medical conditions. However, they must be packed separately in quart-sized, zip-lock bags and declared at the security checkpoint.

2. Note that the limit of one carry-on and one personal item does not apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids, and assistive devices. These items are also exempt from checked baggage restrictions and fees. If blinded veterans have an assistive device (it is always wise to take a spare cane or other prosthetic aids) in their checked luggage, they may request that the fee be waived for that bag. This is not a rule that customer service representatives must follow but it is a courtesy often extended if requested.

Online BVA Newsletter Boosts Communications


BVA now has a monthly email newsletter, which features articles about the Association’s latest activities and stories about members.

Bulletin readers wishing to receive the newsletter should go to the BVA website Homepage. Click on the newsletter sign-up icon in the lower right corner of the page for the form to appear on the user’s computer screen. The newsletter can also be requested of Kay Starr at email kstarr@bva.org.