By Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer
“I was asleep like everyone else. Then, I saw bombs leaving Japanese planes and when they hit, the hangar jumped up, about three or four feet into the air,” Jones, 90, told a spellbound group of volunteers visiting his Washington, D.C., retirement home.
Jones survived the attack unharmed and went on to see combat action in World War II’s European and Pacific theatres. He was one of several war veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home sharing his war stories Aug. 6 with more than 60 co-op volunteers from more than 30 co-ops.
Volunteers were in the nation’s capital for the second of three NRECA Benefits Update Conferences, sponsored each year by the association’s insurance and financial services department for employee benefits administrators. The conference began with a day of service at Lincoln’s Cottage and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
They started the day on the grounds of President Lincoln’s Cottage, a 19th century landmark located on the same campus as the retirement home. Eight volunteer squads donned goggles and gloves to prep and prime stairs and floors, plant trees or scrape paint off railings.
“Instead of sitting around in a workshop all day, we’re outside helping the community. I think it’s fun,” said Lou St. Romain, an assistant at Pointe Coupee EMC in New Roads, La., as she plucked dead flowers to make room for new ones.
Around the bend from the cottage, a group of volunteers from co-ops in Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina were waxing and polishing a life-size bronze statue of Lincoln and his horse. The statue symbolizes Lincoln’s daily commute from the cottage to the White House during the Civil War years.
Theresa Showalter of Daviess-Martin County REMC in Loogootee, Ind., was applying a coat of sticky wax polish to Lincoln’s knee-length coat. “It’s kind of like waxing a car, only it’s not as slick as a car,” she said of the second in a three-step process.
Jeffrey Larry, the cottage’s preservation manager, explained that the statues need a once-a-year cleaning, otherwise they would turn green. This cleaning was more than a year overdue and already, the brick ground around Lincoln’s feet and the horse’s hooves was turning green.
Navy vet Dallas Jones, with NRECA’s Erin Beatty, is one of four Pearl Harbor survivors living at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos) Navy vet Dallas Jones, with NRECA’s Erin Beatty, is one of four Pearl Harbor survivors living at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)
“It’s a genuine help to have these folks here,” said Larry, who supervised the volunteers. “I have no help, and even though these projects are on our maintenance list, they don’t get tended to.”
Peter Baxter, NRECA senior vice president, Insurance and Financial Services, said a community service project isn’t typically part of the Benefits Update Conferences. “But the fact that we were going to be in Washington, and the fact that former Army Chief of Staff General [George] Casey is coming to speak, it just seemed to make sense to do something different and give something back to the community,” said Baxter.
After finishing the tasks, volunteers flocked to the retirement home to relax and mingle with some of the more than 500 veterans who live there.
Pearl Harbor survivor Jones and other residents gamely tried some “gentle yoga” moves, with help from volunteers. Patrick “Goldie” Goldsworthy, 80, entertained the crowd with his harmonica, with a guest guitarist strumming in the background.
The retirement home visit aimed to give the WWII, Korea and Vietnam vets a taste of healthy living, with mini-yoga sessions and healthy snacks. But also during the day, another type of wellness emerged—one that can’t be held or touched. It came in the form of human connections, of one person reaching out to another and forming a bond with another.
“Anything you can do to have the spirit touched with love…human contact definitely makes them happy. It’s evident, just look around the room,” said yoga instructor Susan Spangler, who led vets and volunteers during the workshops. “They love to talk about what they did for this country. It’s who they are, down to the core.”