DOVER — The image of an aging, war-weary veteran crying on Christmas Eve, alone with the ghosts of battles past, is miles from the truth during the holidays at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Union Grove.
“Starting in November with Veterans Day, through the New Year, this place is three months worth of partying,” Commandant Susan Siebert said. “Terri and her staff organize and facilitate so many events between Veterans Day and New Year’s Day that there is always something going on.”
Terri Presser is the facility’s activities and volunteer coordinator. She and her staff serve the facility’s almost 200 residents.
The Wisconsin Veterans Home at Union Grove, 21425 Spring St., Dover, includes modern and affordable residences, a variety of social opportunities and comprehensive, skilled nursing services on its campus.
The facility is one of three in the state — similar facilities are located in Chippewa Falls and King, which is near Waupaca.
Siebert said Union Grove is home to a 40-bed, community-based residential facility — similar to assisted living. Union Grove is also home to a 158-bed skilled nursing facility. Those who call the facility home are referred to as members.
“If someone needs the services of a skilled nursing facility, generally they don’t go home overnight,” Siebert said. “We have a couple of members who go on overnights, but most everyone lives here 24/7, 365.”
The facility is open to veterans and their spouses. Area veterans groups might as well also call the facility home — those who spent time in the military continue to serve by being there for their fellow brothers and sisters staying at Union Grove.
“One of the biggest, most fortunate pieces we have is all the veterans groups,” Presser said. “We’re very fortunate.”
Every branch of the military — Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard — is represented by the multitude of veterans organizations that volunteer at Union Grove, not just during the holidays, but year-round.
Siebert and Presser said such organizations played a pivotal role in the home’s holiday party on Dec. 10. The event was open to family guests of the members, and members may invite as many guests as they like.
“I’ve had groups of 20 or 25 family members,” Presser said. “That is due to the generosity of our veterans service organizations.”
Presser said the veterans groups pay special attention to members who do not have family visiting for the holidays, and ensure those individuals feel loved during the holidays. Presser said at least three separate veterans organizations buy personalized gifts for members at Union Grove.
In addition to gifts, Presser said the community also gives the facility dozens and dozens of Christmas cards.
“They’re very touched and moved,” Presser said. “They’re the generation of Christmas cards. Many of us have moved away from Christmas cards, but they love it.”
Members also have opportunity to make presents for their loved ones in the ceramics, woods and leather shops, which Presser said leads to an interesting sight.
“This time of year, I call the members our little Santa’s elves,” Presser said. “They’re making presents, and many of them turn around and those are their gifts for their family members.”
Tradition and outreach
Plenty of time is built in the schedule for holiday traditions that are familiar to the men and women who call Union Grove home, such as baking cookies, watching holiday movies and caroling.
There are visits from carolers and from local community groups. There are parties and receptions and special meals. There is singing and reverie and time for worship.
There is a hand-bell choir, another choir for those with vocal talents, a deli with its own social calendar, and decorations galore — Presser and Siebert can go on at length about everything going on to make the holidays as festive as possible at the veterans home.
Perhaps where the veterans home excels, though, is also in accommodating those for whom this is not the most wonderful time of the year. The halls might be filled with joy, but the spirit of the season is too much for some to bear without a friendly ear.
“For some, Christmas isn’t a happy time,” Presser. “We have staff on hand to address the mental health support some members might need.”