It’s a sweet(s) sight as GCU volunteers visit vets
Story by Laurie Merrill
Photos by Takashi Sato
GCU News Bureau
Some of them displayed souvenir dog tags and many wore baseball caps Wednesday morning as they eagerly awaited the annual Salute Our Troops visit of Grand Canyon University staffers.
Residents of the Arizona State Veteran Home in Phoenix couldn’t wait for their morning of games, songs and fellowship with 40 GCU employees and volunteers. But what also had them excited was the anticipation of the tasty goodies.
“Where’re the doughnuts?” they asked, remembering the breakfast treats from years past and lighting up when they spotted the donated cookies, scones, turnovers and fresh fruit tastefully arranged on trays by Kevin Walton, executive chef of the new Lope House restaurant at Grand Canyon University Championship Golf Course.
“It is my honor to do what I can for those who have protected us and our freedom,” Walton said.
Seeing the disabled veterans who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam eagerly greet them is a moving sight for Christopher Landauer, regional director of operations for GCU’s military campus.
“They were waiting for us,” Landauer said. “It’s fantastic seeing our staff so elated, so excited to be there. It humbles us when we visit the veterans because it reminds us of the sacrifices they have made.”
On their end, Military/Business Operations and Community Outreach staffers and volunteers from GCU also look forward to the trip to the 200-bed facility near Seventh Street and Indian School Road. They enjoy learning about the former soldiers’ contributions to our nation’s history and just enjoy socializing with them.
“The camaraderie is immediate and genuine,” said Debbie Accomazzo, GCU’s community outreach manager. “Within no time the anecdotes and jokes start to fly, as if old friends have been reunited — which, in some cases, they have.”
First, there’s conversation over coffee and pastries, followed by a choice of a drum circle, Texas Hold ’Em poker, wheelchair bowling and karaoke before joining a military branch singalong.
“These men and women know what they want,” Accomazzo said. “I learned they have their favorite place to perch in the cafeteria and a preference for the activities they participate in, whether it be cards, bowling or karaoke. And if it’s karaoke, you might get to hear a song that was used to woo a young bride many years ago.” (For example, there was a rendition of “You are My Sunshine” by a veteran who’s still obviously a romantic.)
Texas Hold ‘Em was the biggest draw this year, said Kristin Fray, the home’s therapeutic programs manager, who said the veterans were thrilled with the event.
“I think there’s this intergenerational bond that’s really special,” she said.
Landauer, who spent some time dealing the poker game, said one of the high points for him also came at the card table. Two of the men hailed from New York and one wore a Godfather shirt, he said.
“I did a card trick, and I got them both,” Landauer said. “One veteran said he would break my wrist, and we laughed so hard! It was a lot of fun.”
More than 180 employees at GCU serve the University’s more than 7,000 veterans, active service members and their spouses, Landauer said.
“This is one of the big highlights of the year, for sure,” he said. “When we were leaving the event, the veterans were begging us to come back soon. They promise they aren’t going anywhere else and they’ll be waiting.”
● Here’s a slideshow from the event.
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.