September 17, 2016 was another exceptional yet typical day at the Claremore Veterans Center. The recreation/activities department put on a wonderful picnic style day for the residents and their family members. The day started off with a fishing tournament at the onsite pond. First prize was $75 with other amounts given for largest and smallest fish. Fishing equipment and bait was supplied by the activities staff. The covered dock provided a great setting for the residents. There was also a cookout with hamburgers and hot dogs cooked by members of the Claremore chapter of the Disabled American Veterans organization. They had a horseshoe competition in the afternoon. Live music was provided by regular center entertainers Robert and Susie Case. The day was also made possible by the assistance of the Rogers State University baseball team, and volunteers from the Red Cross and Church on the Move. There were also the regular volunteers that spend several days per week assisting at the center. City and county officials were invited to participate with Claremore mayor Bill Flanagan and Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton attending. The day provided a great deal of entertainment for the residents that was thoroughly enjoyed by all. The day started with fishing at 8 a. m. and concluded with the presentation of certificates to the first, second, and third place winners of the horseshoe competition at 2 p. m.
The activities and recreation staff provide a variety of activities throughout the week, including dominoes, checkers, pool, and shuffleboard tournaments as well as pitching quarters, an event they call Las Vegas bowling. There is also bingo several times in most weeks. Cash prizes are awarded by the activities department for the tournament competitions and Las Vegas bowling while bingo is sponsored and financed by outside organizations such as the Elks, American Legion, and VFW chapters as well as the women’s auxiliaries. The recreation department is headed by Monique DiLonardo and has a staff of 5 or 6 assistants. They do a marvelous job of providing events to give the residents opportunities to enjoy group time and gain some spending money for sodas or candy from vending machines located in the building, or one of the off-site opportunities. Staff members are always very encouraging as the residents strive to do well in the various competitions. There are also regular field trips that give residents a chance to get out for a while.
The center is very home-like, has a physical therapy department, a lab, and a pharmacy as well as several medical doctors and social workers on site. There is also a craft room where residents can paint, do woodworking projects, and work on puzzles. There is a well-stocked library in the center that is available to residents and family members. I almost overlooked the clothing room. It is staffed by some wonderful ladies who take in donations of clothing, toiletries, etc. and size, separate, and store/stack/hang items for distribution as needed by the veterans. There is never a charge for any of the items and everything is given out as needed. Several churches and civic organizations contribute items needed.
The dining room provides 3 hot meals every day with a wide variety of buffet style items as well as a short order grill, a specialty item counter, a salad bar, and a beverage counter that is available 24/7/365 to residents and family members. Beverages include milk, fresh brewed ice tea, crystal lite sugar free lemonade and wild strawberry, regular lemonade, orange, apple, cranberry, and tomato juices, V8, and Ensure or Boost supplement drinks. Coffee is also available on the beverage counter with plastic and Styrofoam cups readily available. There is also a soft serve ice cream machine in the dining room. It has chocolate, vanilla, or mixed options and the ice cream can be put in cups or cones that are always available. Butterscotch, strawberry, and chocolate syrups are also readily available. I have heard several people say that the Claremore facility is one of the best in the nation. I have not seen any others but have been very impressed with the quality of the Claremore center, both the facility and the employees. Oklahoma can be proud of the people who staff the Claremore Veterans Center, and the quality of the facility itself. Men and women who have faithfully served the nation are cared for by people of similar quality who take very good care of our heroes. The oldest resident is a 102 year old World War II veteran. I don’t know the age of the youngest but there are some Gulf War veterans in residence there. The picnic style event was another fine example of the recreation department’s care for the residents and their families. The families are just as important to the staff as the residents are, which I see as fitting since serving one’s country involves the wives and children also as they are affected by the military experience.
Field trips vary greatly in their scope. Once a month the residents are taken to local casinos so they can gamble, for those interested. The trips alternate months between the Hard Rock in Catoosa and the Cherokee at Will Rogers Downs in Claremore. In July the residents that were interested were able to go to the Claremore Air Show at the Claremore Airport and in August some went to a fly-in at the Will Rogers birthplace ranch in Oologah.
On Friday September 16 Bert and Monique took residents to a ranch East of Catoosa to see the wild mustangs that are cared for there. These horses come from Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. They have been deemed too old and wild to be adopted so they roam loose in pastures on the ranch. There are currently 2,000 horses on 10,000 acres of the approximately 100,000 acres that comprise the Robson Ranch. The horses are divided up according to the size of each individual pasture, allowing 5 acres per horse. During the winter the ranch hands feed the horses alfalfa and hay but they just graze in the pastures during the summer. There is ample water available in ponds and old coal strip pits so they have everything they need to survive as if they were in their natural habitat. The activities department also provides regular trips to Wal-Mart for those interested in going shopping. The entire staff goes out of their way to give the residents as much of a normal life as is possible under the physical statuses of the residents. It is truly a home away from home, as much as it can possibly be.
There are several church services and Bible study opportunities each week and other entertainment is brought in on a regular basis. There is something for the residents to participate every day of every month. For field trips the center has a pair of handicap friendly buses. One of the wheel chair capable buses can take 7 chairs and two walk-ons. The other can take two chairs and 14 walk-ons so there is plenty of space. If that isn’t enough the buses will make another run to accommodate any overflow. In October residents can go to the Tulsa State Fair for a day of fun. The center provides each resident with cash to buy lunch and drinks for the day. Last year some of the fair vendors gave discounts to the veterans to honor their service to the nation.
The center has a capacity of 302 and has a waiting list of veterans seeking a bed there. It is truly a wonderful atmosphere for people who have no one at home capable of caring for them. Our nation can’t do enough for our heroes but the staff at the Claremore Veterans Center certainly does all they can to provide a homey atmosphere for the residents. When you hear bad things about the way the VA treats veterans you can be sure that the Claremore Veterans Center is much the exception to that. Again, Oklahoma can be proud of this facility and those who staff it, as well as taking pride in the quality of the residents who greatly deserve our love, admiration, and respect.
I submit this in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, in faith, with the responsibility given to me by Almighty God to honor His work and not let it die from neglect.
September 20, 2016