Around BVA...

 

New Reps Open Offices In Chicago, Houston

 

Daniel Johnson, right, with Field Service Program Director Stephen Matthews outside BVA National Headquarters.
Daniel Johnson, right, with Field Service Program Director Stephen Matthews outside BVA National Headquarters. 

 BVA has opened two new Field Service offices. The first is located in Chicago and replaces the previous Region IV office occupied by Bob Malak in Milwaukee. The second office in Houston replaces the Region V Denver location and Peter Link, who filled in after retirement when he was sorely needed and is now retiring for the second time.

Representing BVA in Chicago is Daniel Johnson, a former Marine who lost his sight due to glaucoma. Daniel has built and run his own company, and is an accomplished jazz percussionist and vocalist. He has attended the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines. He also acquired extensive technical skills after his VIST Coordinator suggested that he learn to use a computer again and then introduced him to Guild for the Blind.

The new Region V representative in Houston is Edgar Penaloza, who has relocated to Texas from his most recent home in the Portland, Oregon, area. He was formerly and most recently president of the Oregon Columbia Regional Group.

Massachusetts Luncheon Honors WWII Female Veterans

 

BVA Rhode Island/Southeastern Massachusetts Regional Group President Randy Durrigan and Providence VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator Adele Geringer recently joined their respective regional and support groups together to host a luncheon recognizing six World War II women veterans from Massachusetts and Rhode Island for their wartime service.

Members of the Cape Cod and Islands Regional Group, led by Cliff Fisher and Frank Verny, also helped organize and participate in the event, which took place at Mezza Luna Restaurant in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, on November 9.

According to Carl Hytinen, VIST Volunteer and BVA Auxiliary Treasurer, all six of the women honored were blinded veterans due to degenerative diseases and all were in their 90s. The Cape Cod site was selected because of its central, half-way point location for three of the veterans living in Rhode Island and the other three on Cape Cod.

The women consisted of Elizabeth Carter, BVA life member Agnes Burridge, and life member Martha Lincoln from Cape Cod, and Helen O'Neill, life member Daisy Gabrielle, and Margaret Rejo from Rhode Island. Sadly, 93-year-old Margaret Rejo passed away just six days after the luncheon.

According to VA statistics, the six women were among an estimated 131,482 female World War II veterans still living at the time of the event. Seven decades ago, they were among 319,000 American women and 450,000 British women who joined the military during World War II, working as nurses, secretaries, clerks, drivers, and in some instances pilots, ferrying planes from one location to another.

Gary Traynor Recognized By Wisconsin Council

 

Gary Traynor, president of BVA of Wisconsin, does not blow his own horn. That is the impression, at least, of Kathi Koegle, Director of Community Relations at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Kathi has seen Gary work quietly behind the scenes on behalf of blinded veterans and all people in Wisconsin who are blind or visually impaired.

It was Kathi, in fact, who informed BVA that on November 19, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired presented Gary with its Louis Seidita Distinguished Service Award at its annual scholarships and awards event in Madison. Seidita was a Milwaukee businessman who served on the Council and was a generous donor.

At left, Jim Doyle, then Governor of Wisconsin, with Wisconsin Regional Group president Gary Traynor in June 2010 following the signing of state legislation that placed a BVA member on the State Council on Veterans Programs. This success and several similar ones have earned Gary the Louis Seidita Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Council of the Blind.
At left, Jim Doyle, then Governor of Wisconsin, with Wisconsin Regional Group president Gary Traynor in June 2010 following the signing of state legislation that placed a BVA member on the State Council on Veterans Programs. This success and several similar ones have earned Gary the Louis Seidita Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Council of the Blind.

The Council's Distinguished Service Award recognizes and celebrates Gary's fresh ideas, the new perspective he brought to the Council, and the many miles logged on his family's car on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired," said Kathi.

Gary has been a member of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired since 2006. He has served on numerous committees, including Finance and Development, Community Education and Awareness, Recreation, Awards, Sharper Vision Store, and Legislative—the latter of which he is still a member. While on the Recreation Committee, Gary spearheaded the creation of an extensive manual with recreational resources for people who are blind or visually impaired.

In addition to his BVA membership, Gary belongs to several Veterans Service Organizations, including the American Legion Post 53, AMVETS Post 128 in Rice Lake, Disabled American Vets/ National Blind Chapter, and the Council on Veterans Programs. Gary was instrumental in the passage of legislation that placed a member of the regional group on the Council on Veterans Programs as a key advisor to the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gary also gives his time to the Center for Independent Living for Western Wisconsin in Menomonie, where he volunteers in their peer support program and offers encouragement and inspiration to others who have lost vision.

National Headquarters Receives Unlikely Visit from WWII Vet


Over many years, World War II veteran and now 104-year-old Alyce Dixon has supported BVA with numerous small financial contributions in response to direct mail correspondence she received.

On the morning of December 20, the Washington, DC, native amazed and brightened the Association's National Headquarters with a personal visit filled with quick-witted, light-hearted humor. She then surprised Executive Director Tom Miller with a check issued to the Blinded Veterans Association for $25,000.

World War II veteran Alyce Dixon surprised BVA on December 20 with an unexpected gift for the holidays.
World War II veteran Alyce Dixon surprised BVA on December 20 with an unexpected gift for the holidays.

"I wanted to present this gift to you live and in color to thank you for your service and especially for what the Blinded Veterans Association is doing for World War II veterans," Alyce told Tom and Director of Development Cheryl Swaim.

Alyce was born in Boston on September 11, 1907. She is a former Pentagon employee who worked in requisitions, a division that purchased office supplies for DoD.

Alyce joined the Women's Army Corps during World War II once the U.S. Military began accepting women, eventually ending up in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion when it was established in January 1945. The Battalion was charged with clearing a backlog of mail addressed to the troops in Europe, eliminating floor-to-ceiling stacks of undelivered mail and packages addressed to U.S. service members but stored in British warehouses. Alyce first worked in London and later traveled to France with the Battalion to take care of a similar predicament.

Assisting and accompanying Alyce to BVA from the nearby DC VA Medical Center was Recreation Therapist Annemarie Wilson. Alyce is a well-known personality and patient at the medical center.

Scholarship Funds Available For 2012-13 Academic Year

 

Beginning with the 2012-13 academic year, BVA will award seven total scholarships, six under the Kathern F. Gruber program umbrella for $2,000 each and one $1,000 scholarship through the newly established Thomas H. Miller program.

The new Miller program qualifications are the same as those for the Gruber awards except for an added emphasis on music and fine arts. The scholarship committee will choose seven recipients and three alternates.

Dependent children, grandchildren, and spouses of blinded veterans, and those of active duty blinded service members of the U.S. Armed Forces, are eligible for the scholarships. The veteran must be legally blind and the blindness may be either service connected or nonservice connected. The veteran need not be a member of the Blinded Veterans Association.

To be eligible for the scholarship, an applicant must have been accepted for admission, or already be enrolled, as a full-time student in an accredited institution of higher education or business, secretarial, or vocational training school.

The scholarships, now in their 29th year, are intended to defray a student's educational expenses, including tuition, books, and other academic fees. Scholarship payments will be made by BVA directly to the educational institution.

Applications for the scholarships may be obtained from the Blinded Veterans Association, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 20, 2012. Due to time constraints related to processing the applications for the scholarship committee's review, applications arriving after the aforementioned deadline will not be accepted.

The scholarships will be awarded on a "most-highly-qualified" basis utilizing the following criteria: answers to questions on the application form; transcripts of high school and/or college records; three letters of reference; and a 300-word essay relating to the applicant's career goals and aspirations.

Scholarships are awarded for one year only. Applicants are advised that the BVA National Board of Directors has determined that Gruber and Miller scholarship recipients are limited to a total of four scholarships during their college careers.

Ribbon Cut for New BVA Office

 

BVA has opened a new volunteer office in the Major Soltes BRC, according to Southern California Regional Group President Paul Guzman.

The ribbon cutting, which occurred February 7, had 24 persons in attendance and included BRC Director Tony Candela, VIST Coordinator Linda Fitzgerald, BROS Bob Kozel, additional BRC staff members, and ten blinded veterans.

"The great thing about this office is that it has the support of the BRC, the medical center, and Tony, the latter of whom is so thankful to BVA for all of the work that was done to make the blind center a reality," said Paul.

The office is currently stocked with two CCTVs, a phone, a computer, and an abundant supply of BVA literature and promotional items.

"We have a great group of volunteers to manage the office," said Paul. "This new facility, and our office within it, offers us still another great opportunity to better serve our blinded veterans in Southern California."

AFB Recognizes Miller Advocacy Work

 

Tom Miller is the most recent recipient of the Irvin P. Schloss Advocacy Award, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Executive Director Carl Augusto announced December 8.

Augusto revealed the news at a reception held for Tom upon his impending retirement at the Washington office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Irv Schloss, for whom the award was named, was a major player in BVA's early history, helping the organization to secure its Congressional charter in 1958 and to gain national recognition and respect in other ways during its most formative years. He joined AFB in late 1958 as Director of Governmental Relations and became known as a legislative champion for the blind and other disabled populations.

Although AFB created the award in 2003, three years prior to Irv's passing, Augusto said in his statement that Tom is only the third individual to receive it. Previous recipients were William Casto in 2006 and Irv himself in 2003.

Florida Vet Sponsors School Spelling Bees

 

Bill Geden, Florida Regional Group, has once again sponsored the annual Blinded Veterans Spelling Bee at two different elementary schools in Citrus County and a follow-up competition between them.

The contests took place for the third year in a row in late October and early November.

Participant schools were Inverness Primary and Hernando Primary, and the events involved students from the third, fourth, and fifth grades. The interscholastic contest took place at the Office of the Superintendent.

Although teacher Sandy Cross of Inverness Primary spearheaded the program and served as a judge at the competitions, Bill and his wife Nancy financially supported the effort with trophies and a scheduled ice cream party later in the year. Parents assisted with the formulation of a 200-word list that was used at the bees.

"As always, this was great fun," said Bill. "We honored in particular the first-, second-, and third-place winners in each grade with trophies depicting a bumble bee on a podium."

Bill believes his support from Citrus County Superintendent Sam Himmel, teachers, parents, and students is enough to expand the program to other schools next year. Himmel, for example, teamed with Bill to offer a paid luncheon at an Applebee's Restaurant for all students participating in the finals and for the principals of the schools Bill hopes to recruit for next year's competition.

"I have high hopes to take the program to more elementary schools," he said. "With two participating and 11 existing, that leaves nine still missing."

Bill also received support on the day of the events from Henry Butler of the Korean War Veterans Association and Richard Hunt of The Military Order of the Purple Heart, both of whom stated aloud the words to be spelled by the students.

Connecticut BVA Members March in Hartford Parade

 

For the fourth consecutive year, blinded veterans of the Connecticut Regional Group and Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center at West Haven participated in the Connecticut Veterans Parade held November 11 in downtown Hartford.

Marching were regional group president and National Director of District 1 David Van Loan, vice president Ronald Shuckarow, and treasurer Douglas Reid. Austin Grimshaw, David's 12-year-old grandson, helped carry the group's banner while other family members of the veterans drove a vehicle through the 1.4-mile parade route. Several trainees at the blind center joined the group.

"This parade is really quite a sight to behold and remember, and something we anticipate being involved with for many more years to come," said David. "Especially noteworthy is the traditional 1:30 p.m. Moment of Silence followed by a tolling of the Center Church Bell and a stirring rendition of the National Anthem."

With this year being no exception, the Hartford parade is typically attended by 40,000 spectators, more than 150 military and veterans groups, and close to 4,000 marchers representing dozens of Connecticut towns. The VA Veterans Day National Committee of which BVA is a member recognizes the parade as one of the nation's 57 official "2011 Veterans Day Regional Sites" and the only one in Connecticut.

Special Ceremony Awards Flag to Veteran in Florida

 

DAR members Linda Easterwood, left, and Nancy Turner present Braille flag to blinded veteran Michael Taylor on Veterans Day.
DAR members Linda Easterwood, left, and Nancy Turner present Braille flag to blinded veteran Michael Taylor on Veterans Day. 

Michael Taylor, Florida Regional Group, and resident of Fleming Island in Clay County, Florida, recently received a hand-sewn Braille U.S. flag from local members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

The presentation of the flag made of satin and grosgrain ribbon occurred on Veterans Day at a groundbreaking ceremony for a $40,000 memorial wall project to honor past and present military veterans with local ties. DAR chose Mike as the first recipient of a Braille flag because of his service and sacrifice. Mike is a Vietnam veteran who lost his sight and a leg in an explosion during Vietnam combat operations.

The gathering of approximately 200 persons near the entrance to Magnolia Cemetery in Orange Park, Florida, included Florida Regional Group past president Paul Kaminsky and Korean War disabled veteran and former Marine Al Keithan.

The idea for the 2½-foot high granite memorial, supported by DAR, originally came from the Historical Society of Orange Park. The wall will display inscribed emblems of each of the nation's armed forces. Inscribed bricks that sell for $50 each will be used to create a lighted walkway.

Mike's flag was sewn by DAR member Linda Easterwood. To provide a tactile reference, the flag was sewn using alternating different textured materials to distinguish the red and white colors for the stripes. The blue field has the 50 stars individually embroidered on both sides.

Association Recalls Founding Member

 

World War II blinded veteran Alfred J. Therrien, a BVA founding member, passed away November 13, 2011. He was 88 years old.

BVA Founding Father Alfred Therrien
BVA Founding Father Alfred Therrien

Al was present at the organizational meeting that initiated the Association at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital on March 28, 1945.

Born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he lived until moving to Tewksbury in 1991, he is survived by his wife of 58 years, Aline Tellier Therrien, three daughters, and 10 grandchildren.

Al served in the U.S. Army's 166th Combat Engineers during World War II. In September 1944, he was severely wounded in France. Although his injuries cost him his vision, Al went on to college at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota in 1951. He worked for several years as a Social Worker for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Al was perhaps most well known in BVA circles for his relationship with Father Thomas Carroll, BVA's first National Chaplain and a pioneer in the rehabilitation field. Father Carroll performed the marriage ceremony for Al and Aline in 1953.

Al also worked for the Catholic Guild for the Blind and Family Services under Father Carroll's tutelage and influence. He had a wealth of experiences and stories to relate about Father Carroll.

In addition to his BVA membership, Al was active in various civic organizations in Lawrence, especially the Knights of Columbus and Richelieu Club.

Al attended several of the early BVA-supported TEE Tournaments, a recreational rehabilitation golf event held annually in Iowa City. Although his name was somehow left off the list of BVA founding fathers published in the special 50th anniversary issue of the Bulletin in 1995, Al and Aline affirmed at the 2002 TEE Tournament that he was indeed one of the approximately 100 blinded veterans who attended the first BVA meeting.

Hunter Completes Ironman Race

 

Richard Hunter, Northern California Regional Group, is now officially an Ironman by virtue of completing the 2011 Ford Ironman Florida triathlon November 5 in Panama City, Florida. The competition consisted of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.

Richard worked his way up to the event, his first Ironman competition ever, after competing in just ten triathlons during the past three years. He finished in the top third of those who lined up at the starting gate. He was also only the second visually impaired triathlete to break the 12-hour Ironman benchmark. His 2.4 mile swim was divided into two parts and completed in one hour, 26 minutes, and seven seconds while the bike ride lasted five hours, 51 minutes, and 42 seconds. The marathon run took four hours, 11 minutes, and 37 seconds.

"The emotions are still so fresh that I can't even talk without tearing up and swallowing the ever growing lump in my throat about the volunteers who helped me," Richard wrote five days after the amazing feat.

Richard completed the events in a total of 11 hours, 55 minutes, and 22 seconds after battling a number of injuries and illnesses throughout the year. He credits guide Alan Gulledge, himself recovering from a knee injury only a month before the Ironman competition, for the successful finish. Gulledge was tethered to Richard while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean; he sat on front of the tandem bike that went 112 miles; and he ran alongside Richard for the 26.2 mile ordeal on foot.

Also acknowledged by Richard as a significant link to his success is Justin Waller, an Ironman athlete who was inspired to volunteer by coverage he had seen of guides placed through the "C Different Foundation." Waller devoted a year of training to guide, mentor, and train with Richard, who was also coached by multiple-Ironman finisher Jon Klingensmith and trained by Sports Nutritionist/Ironman Sheila Leard.

Richard completed the Boston Marathon in 2008 and immediately set his sights higher, aiming for the more rigorous triathlon events despite a lack of training that may have discouraged even the most optimistic competitors. Three years ago, for example, he was not able to swim even 50 yards in a pool.

"As we approached the last quarter mile of the marathon with Alan still guiding me with the tether, the lights were blinding, the crowd was deafening, and I heard the announcer call out, 'Richard Hunter, you are an Ironman!'"

Following the event, Richard told his hometown newspaper, the Folsom Telegraph, that people who think they can't do something because of a disability, or other adversity along the way, are kidding themselves. He is backing up that statement with action, hoping next to compete in the Kona Ironman in Hawaii.

Citizens Academy Trains BVA Member and Spouse

 

Korean War era veteran Bill Dixon, Alabama Regional Group, and his wife Edna recently graduated from the Citizens Academy for Police Officer training in their hometown of Bay Minette, Alabama.

The two are now volunteers for duty when needed.

"The training was very intensive and certainly made me wonder why anyone could think they could commit a crime of any kind," said Bill.

Trainees rode in golf carts around a driving course filled with obstacles. The training also consisted of the firing of 30 rounds of ammunition on a firing range. The bullets were made of plastic and filled with different colors of paint so that hits could be recorded on impact.

With the assistance of a guide, Bill missed the target just three times out of 30 rounds from several different distances.

Prior to graduation from the Academy, Bill and Edna rode on patrol with officers for 12 hours (two times for six hours). He was impressed with the efficiency of the operation and the manner in which the officers were both tough and cordial at the same time.

"With my hearing aids and a remote microphone, I could hear what was going on with the officer and whomever he had stopped, but I still wondered what I could do to help him if he had a problem," explained Bill.

Bill told his patrolman that if the latter sensed any type of potential problem, he should relay a message to him by simply saying, "Make a call!" He would then get on the radio and immediately call for backup help. The patrolman complimented Bill for suggesting something that would most assuredly work. As it turned out, there were no major problems and no need for any calls.

"I just wanted to let my fellow blinded veterans know that there are opportunities out there if you just look for them and are not afraid to get involved," said Bill. "When we're doing productive things, we naturally feel better about ourselves."