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Legion Auxiliary makes sure veterans have gifts

Residents of care facilities get special thanks

— Last week marked the American Legion Auxiliary’s fourth year of a new tradition, delivering Christmas presents to veterans living in local facilities.

Thirteen veterans received gifts this year from Thea Nilsen, who started the project through the Post 97 Auxiliary.

Every year around mid-December, she shops for staples such as shirts, robes, pants and socks, wraps them and drops them off at Harmony House Health Care Center and Northstar Adult Family Homes, 130 N. Star Road.

One veteran, a woman, lives in Northstar and receives a Snuggie and slippers, Nilsen said.

“They can always use stuff like that,” she said. “In nursing homes they can’t use much besides clothes, because everything else is provided to them.

“We put little notes on each package. ‘Thank you for your service to our country. From, the American Legion Auxiliary.’ Then we put candy canes on the packages, to try to make it festive for them.”

Waiting in Harmony House last Thursday to meet with a few of the veterans, Nilsen received warm greetings from nearly everyone who passed by, staff and residents alike.

“I give them a little bit of company, too, sometimes,” she said of the residents. “It makes you feel really good, and most of them appreciate it. It makes them feel a little bit special, too.”

One veteran at Harmony House, Melvin Sears, served in 24th Infantry Division in the U.S. Army, which was formed during World War II and saw action in Korea and Operation Desert Storm. As with two other veterans who met with Nilsen and The Chronicle, he couldn’t quite recall when he had served, but remembered his fellow soldiers.

“I guess my crew come out pretty good,” he said. “And I come out lucky. I usually try to forget about it rather than think of it, because a lot of them didn’t come through it.”

Jo Fancher said she had been a registered physical therapist in the U.S. Army, and David Settle was a sailor in the U.S. Navy.

“I’m just thrilled to have veterans in our facility,” Harmony House owner Jerry Tretwold said. “They hold a special place in our hearts; the things they’ve done to look after us, and now it’s a great honor to be able to look after them.”

The veterans were set to receive their gifts during a Christmas party, one staff member said. If any more veterans move in before Christmas, Nilsen makes sure they also get a gift.

“Probably eight or nine of them were there last year,” she said. One had gone home, and two died.

Giving gifts to veterans has largely been a solo project, but Legion member Monte Butler pitched in last year, and this year Nilsen had help throughout the process from Bridgeport resident Pat Pittman.

“This is the first year I’ve had help shopping,” Nilsen said. “I used to pull two carts around in Walmart.”

She had planned to purchase gifts for veterans in the Lake Chelan area as well, but ran out of time with her other Auxiliary duties. Instead, she delivered a $400 donation to the Legion post there.

“We used to ship all the money to the (veterans) hospital in Spokane. I think we should keep our money local,” Nilsen said. “We may as well take care of our community first, and that’s what we’re there for.”

Money for veterans’ gifts comes from the Auxiliary’s annual holiday bazaar and other fundraisers.

“I’m just thrilled with the initiative that she’s taking, because there are very few who stand up there down at the posts, and she is by far at the top of the list when it comes to volunteering and getting things going,” Legion Post 97 Commander George Pearson said.

He said Nilsen also raised nearly $2,000 recently to send a Legion member suffering from cancer on a trip to Reno.

“The things that Thea does like that – she sees the ball, she takes it and she runs with it. That’s what I’ve always liked about her,” Pearson said.

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