Claremore Veteran’s Center Honors Vets on Armed Forces Day


Saturday June 10 was Armed Forces Day, a day set aside to recognize all past and current members of the American armed forces. The Claremore Veterans Center celebrated with a fishing tournament at the onsite pond, a horseshoe tournament, and a fish fry. Cash prizes were awarded for the fishing and horseshoe events and the fish was provided and fried by various community organizations from Claremore and surrounding communities who came together, as they often do, to honor the veterans who live at the center and their families. The primary sponsor and main organizer was the Claremore Elks lodge. The Claremore Elks do quite a lot to entertain and benefit the residents of the center. It is very encouraging to me to see the number of people and organizations that spend their time and money paying tribute to people who served the nation in the military. I am also very honored to live in a part of the nation that honors our nation’s heroes. Oklahoma, considered by many to be the buckle of the Bible Belt, has long been one of the most patriotic of areas in the nation. During the Vietnam anti-War protests I got cursed at and spit on several times but never in my home state of Oklahoma. Any time I traveled the state in my uniform I was always treated with kindness and respect because patriots were quick to express their appreciation for my service.

Groups at the June 10 event were Elks from Claremore, surrounding towns, and the lodge in Lindsey, Oklahoma. Lindsey, I believe, is in the far southeastern corner of the state, quite a long trip but they came to honor veterans in spite of the distance. The Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, and cadet from the Thunderbird Military Academy in Pryor were also in attendance. Also helping honor our residents were a couple of motorcycle clubs from the area. I must apologize because I don’t remember their names. One local club, The Priesthood, is very active in honoring the veterans, coming multiple times a month to either sponsor or assist with events at the center. I am so impressed with and so proud of the reaction of people to the Veterans Center. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and all other holidays find community participation beyond belief. At Christmas we can’t use the center’s auditorium for about 3 weeks because the room, about 150 feet or more by 60 feet or so is so full of donated gifts that there isn’t any room for events. Easter featured an egg hunt for hundreds of kids, mostly relatives of residents. We had thousands of plastic eggs and enough candy to fill all of them. Civic groups also cooked food that was eaten by the pond. Walke Brothers Meats of Verdigris is providing steaks for a cookout on the last Saturday in June. The Claremore VFW is currently refurbishing the charcoal grill that belongs to the center, including a paint job and new woodwork for the food preparation area. The grill is huge, a trailer mounted charcoal grill big enough to cook an entire side of beef. It was donated several years ago but I don’t know by whom because I was not a part of activities at the center until 2 years ago.

I suffered a severe stroke on August 19, 2014 and began volunteering at the center in May 2015. My wife found out about the center and thought volunteering there would aid in my recovery. She was right, I have improved a great deal as a result of my activity there. I am still very limited in my physical ability but they graciously allow me to participate in activities there and allow me to do what I am able to do without putting any demands on me. Everyone there, employees, residents, and family members have treated me very well and have made me feel more than welcome. I feel like I have found another family there. I have made many friends at the center as they have been more than accepting of me despite my limitations. There is something for the residents to do every day, including domino, checker, pool, and shuffleboard tournaments where residents can win from $1 to $10 depending on how well they do. Once a month there is what they call Las Vegas bowling, which is what we called lagging quarters when I was a young man. The veterans center provides $45 in quarters for the residents to pitch. The closest to the end after 4 people toss wins. ?The first round each is given one quarter and the segment winner wins $1. Each successive round is double that until the $45 is gone. There is also bingo several times each week sponsored by various churches and civic organizations who bring several hundred dollars for residents to win. Bingo has the largest turnout, usually 50 to 60 residents who win at least $2 and have the potential of winning $20 or more. The recreation department also provides several field trips each month to allow residents to get out and have some off-site time. Once a month we go to local casinos. The trips alternate between the Hard Rock in nearby Catoosa and the local Cherokee at Will Rogers Downs located just East of Claremore. I am allowed to go and stay with one of the residents to help play the machines. Sometimes they win lots, sometimes they win a little and sometimes they lose money but they always enjoy the chance to get out and play. Last month they went to a local feature called Shepherd’s Cross, a sheep farm where they were shown the process of turning the wool shorn from the sheep into yarn, and having a chance to see and pet some of the animals. The residents have had opportunities to visit a ranch East of Catoosa that has 2,00 wild Mustang horses, a beautiful sight. There are also trips to Wal-Mart two or three times a month, trips to run civic errands like getting ID cards of taking care of any legal business such as getting a passport as one resident did in April. The staff tries to make the center as much like home as they can so residents don’t feel like they are institutionalized. I have been very impressed with the quality of both residents and employees, and have been extremely impressed with and proud of the response of my fellow Oklahomans in their support of the veterans.

I don’t know how much area the pond covers but I have been told that the sidewalk that surrounds it is 1/3 mile in distance. There is also a very nice covered concrete fishing dock complete with benches and picnic tables. There are also several very nice trees surrounded by beautiful flower beds that are planted and maintained by one of the residents, a landscaper by trade. Both building and grounds are kept in magnificent condition by a staff of very good maintenance and housekeeping personnel. It is a great privilege to be allowed to be a part of the organization there. As I stated before I am limited in my physical ability due to the stroke but no one minds allowing me to be a part of the family and I appreciate their acceptance more than I am able to express. God is restoring me to full health a little at a time and the people at the Claremore Veterans Center give me a wonderful sense of acceptance and belonging. Every resident there has some form of disability, some more than myself and some less, but they make me feel right at home, as part of the family.

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.

Bob Russell

Claremore, Oklahoma

June 18, 2017

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Bob Russell

Graduated from Classen High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in May, 1968. Enlisted in the U S Army on December 11, 1968, serving 3 years in the 7th Special Forces Group as a Heavy Weapons Expert, attaining the rank of Sgt. E 5. upon separation went to work at Southwestern Bell Telephone on January 17, 1972 and retired on August 31, 2003. Also spent 1 year on active reserve as a member of the 14th Special Forces Group. attaining the rank of Staff Sgt. E6. started and operated a business installing wiring for telephone, data, and video surveillance systems from October 2003 until December 2011. Suffered a debilitating stroke on August 19, 2014. Now recovering and doing volunteer work at the Claremore, Oklahoma Veterans Center. Attends church in Claremore at CedarPoint and LifeChanger churches. Married to wife Marsha since August 2, 1989 with 4 daughters and a deceased son, 12 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

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