‘Roll out the barrel’ of giftsThe Silver Bay Veterans Home fills with the sound of music Saturday. Instead of traditional holiday fare, the veterans can tap their toes to the “Beer Barrel Polka” and “Just Because” courtesy of Mingo’s Polka Band.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The Silver Bay Veterans Home fills with the sound of music Saturday. Instead of traditional holiday fare, the veterans can tap their toes to the “Beer Barrel Polka” and “Just Because” courtesy of Mingo’s Polka Band.
Members of the accordion band include Donald Meuller of Bayfield, Superior residents Jerry TaBelle and Gene Kelleher and two Silver Bay men, Dave Gustafson and “Harmonica Dick.” They make it a point to gather at the veterans home at least once a year to share their tunes.
“They appreciate it, you can see it in their faces,” said TaBelle, 75, the youngest member of the group.
It’s a long trip – 340 miles round trip for Meuller, also known as Mingo – but it’s worth it.
“It makes you feel good,” TaBelle said.
There’s a deeper connection than that, however.
“We’re veterans too,” said the Superior man. “It has a special meaning for us.”
With the holidays approaching, the residents of the Silver Bay Veterans Home are experiencing an outpouring of support from the community, according to Ward Wallin, volunteer services coordinator for the veterans home. Many veterans, especially Vietnam War veterans, received less than a hero’s welcome when they returned home. Today, even if a conflict is unpopular, the men and women sent overseas are appreciated.
“It’s a pretty nice change of heart,” Wallin said.
Northland residents have stepped forward to remember area veterans, as well. A Crosby woman is preparing Christmas Eve gifts for the Silver Bay Veterans Home, Wallin said. The American Legion of Northern Minnesota and the Carlton County chapter of the Disabled American Veterans are donating gifts.
In Superior, presents for Silver Bay veterans are being collected at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. This is the third year the collection has taken place. Last year, 125 gifts traveled from Superior to Silver Bay.
“We think it’s a patriotic thing to do,” said Hope Swenson, a center volunteer.
The Poplar woman has donated her time at the center since it opened. Her husband Clifford fought for his country at Normandy. The couple went to early meetings about the center. Although her husband died in 2000 before he could volunteer, Swenson does so in his place.
“I feel closer to him” at the center, she said. “He’s the reason I started volunteering. He’s the reason I keep going.”
Many of the veterans in Silver Bay have local ties. TaBelle noted that a friend who he used to bowl with was at the veterans home, although he’s passed away now. A friend of Swenson’s from Duluth was also there.
“We look at the Minnesota connection or residency,” Wallin said. “But we want to help all veterans as much as we can.”
The veterans home currently has room for 84 residents, but an expansion is underway.
Unlike a typical nursing home, the majority of residents at Silver Bay are men, Wallin said.
“We tell the sewing ladies pink is not a real popular color,” he said.
Secret Santas have until Friday to drop off items for the veterans. Gifts should be new and wrapped, with a tag on them saying whether the gift is for a man or woman and, if the item is clothing, what type and size. Items that would be appreciated range from CDs and phone cards to aftershave, shampoo and slippers.
Anyone interested in making a larger donation – for example, people have called asking if the home needs Wii gaming systems – are asked to contact the Silver Bay Veterans Home, (218) 226-6300 or (877) 729-8387, before making the purchase.
The packages will travel from Superior to Silver Bay on Saturday with the band, who will share their gift of music with the veterans.