GCU deals military heroes a day to treasure
Story by Jeannette Cruz
Photos by Travis Neely
GCU News Bureau
Almost every day, Shirley Shipp drives 63 miles round trip from Cave Creek to spend time with her husband, Monroe “Mickey” Dingott, at the Arizona State Veteran Home in Phoenix.
But Tuesday featured an exciting change to their daily routine. Instead of their usual activities – rolling Dingott around in his wheelchair or volunteering together at the gift shop – the couple smiled and engaged in warm conversation during the seventh annual Salute Our Troops visit of Grand Canyon University staffers.
Like other residents of the Veteran Home, they couldn’t wait for their morning of games, songs and mingling with 40 GCU employees and volunteers. After the couple spent most of their morning taking turns at a target shooting game using a dart gun, Shipp said, “I am so blessed today to see Mickey up and having a great time.”
She added, “I really do love him and I’ve suggested moving him into a retirement community closer to home, but he said he is not leaving his vets … and I can’t blame him. There are a lot of people here who love them all.”
But it helped to bring in additional people from GCU. It moved Shipp, who graduated from GCU in 1952, to say, “I love to serve the Lord, and I am grateful to see how Grand Canyon also loves doing that, too,” and Kayla Uptain, therapeutic program manager at the Veteran Home, couldn’t have agreed more.
“I’m seeing faces of some who never leave their room or attend programs,” Uptain said. “The energy in here is fabulous.”
On the GCU end, the feeling was mutual.
“It is a pleasure coming out and visiting with our veterans because they are paying the ultimate sacrifice,” said Elizabeth Catricala, a university counselor in the military division.
Catricala, an Air Force veteran who served for 27 years, helped Kenneth Schade, a Navy veteran, read his proof-of-service letter — a document he’d been waiting to receive for 40 years.
While Catricala read the letter out loud, Schade’s face lit up.
“Wow, it sounds like they gave me a lot of promotions — excellent!” Schade said.
The moment moved Catricala to tears.
“This is his separation document. This tells the VA and the government that he is a military veteran, that he served honorably and it gives the dates and branch of his service,” said Catricala. “It’s a part of him.”
There were conversations over coffee, cookies and pastries (provided by GCU executive chef Kevin Walton), followed by a military branch singalong.
Thunder also made his debut appearance and joined Emily Stephens, GCU director of spirit programs and cheer coach, while she led guests in the singing of the GCU fight song.
“As employees I think we get more out of this day than the veterans, but what we are trying to do is bring a little bit of happiness to them,” said Bart Burkert, GCU’s executive vice president of operations. “It’s incredible to listen to their life stories and where they served. I know that if we can give a little back to them for a few hours, we take a lot back with us and it energizes our department.”
A highlight for Burkert was seeing how thrilled veterans were to play Texas Hold ’em.
“It seems like over the last seven years we’ve been able to find what they’re interested in,” he said.
“To be able to share several hours, holding hands and joking with veterans who have served our country and have such rich life stories — I know that it is not something that is just personally meaningful, but also an experience that GCU can take back and integrate into its work by better understanding how to work with the military population,” said Debbie Accomazzo, GCU’s community outreach manager.
“These are people who appreciate us being here and are more than willing to share a little bit about themselves with us — sometimes it’s serious and sometimes it’s silly.”
When asked what GCU staff and volunteers could take away from the residents at the Arizona State Veterans Home, Accomazzo said, “Fortitude, patience and appreciation of our blessings … after all, blessings don’t come without sacrifice.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at email@example.com or (602) 639-6631.