Milwaukee VA Medical Center
VA volunteers honored at drive-thru event
Poodle skirts, leather jackets and blue jeans were the dress for the day Saturday as more than 100 volunteers at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center were honored during a special drive-thru event.
Normally, volunteers are honored at a sit-down banquet and awards ceremony each spring. But the COVID-19 pandemic quashed such gatherings, so the hospital’s Voluntary Services staff pivoted to a 1950s-themed drive-in event, though there were no car hops on roller skates delivering milkshakes.
“This is awesome. This is a great idea. I love it,” said Clare Scheuerell, honored for logging more than 100 volunteer hours. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Scheuerell, who retired after 20 years with the Spinal Cord Injury unit, volunteers in SCI and in the chapel, though she hasn’t been in the hospital since March due to pandemic restrictions.
In fact, nearly all of the hospital’s 500-plus volunteers have been sidelined six months, though they were happy to come out and celebrate on Saturday.
About 120 volunteers RSVP’d for the event, and a steady stream of cars moved through the parking area west of Building 6 for more than two hours Saturday morning.
There were five stops along the route, where they received:
- A Voluntary Services gaiter mask.
- Popcorn and cream soda.
- Certificates and awards.
- A photo opportunity with Medical Center Director Dr. Daniel Zomchek and Deputy Medical Center Director Jim McLain.
- A Culver’s gift card.
But more than the material awards, the volunteers and the staff cherished a chance to come back to the campus and see some familiar faces.
“It was really good,” said Jessica Serdynski, chief of Voluntary Services. “It’s been a long time for seeing a majority of them. The consensus is always that they miss the Vets and they can’t wait to come back. They miss volunteering.”
Serdynski admitted the drive-thru event wasn’t the same as the traditional banquet.
“It was tough … but it felt good to be able to do something because we want to make sure our volunteers know how much we appreciate them and all that they do at the hospital. They were appreciative of what we did for them.”
Ray Shannon was one of a handful of volunteers who made sure his car meshed with the event’s theme.
Driving a shiny 1951 Chevrolet Fleetline Deluxe he’s owned for 44 years, Shannon said he was glad to bring the classic car to the event and partake in the festivities.
“What a great idea,” he said of the event. “I wish we could park our cars, get out and hang around, but it is what it is.”
John Ziegler received a special plaque – the Outstanding Merit Award – for logging more than 8,750 volunteer hours.
As the Veterans of Foreign Wars state representative to the hospital, Ziegler said he started volunteers by visiting Veterans and “making sure they had a friendly face and somebody to talk to, making sure everything was OK, and if it wasn’t, we’d take care of it.”
That grew into working with departments throughout the hospital to meet their needs.
But like most volunteers, he hasn’t been in the hospital since March.
“It’s been a long time,” he said, as his girlfriend Sandra Kaebisch – also a volunteer – nodded in agreement.
“We’ll come back as soon as they let us,” Kaebisch said.
“But now that this thing is escalating again, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Ziegler said of the coronavirus. “I’d just as soon come back today if it was safe to do so. But I have underlying conditions. I’m 73. I can’t take the chance.”
Serdynski said work is underway to figure out a safe way volunteers can return to the hospital.
“We’re looking at individual volunteer positions, seeing how we need to change them up,” she said. “And we have to make sure we’re training every single volunteer that comes back with the COVID-specific requirements. It’s going to be a little bit, but we’re working slowly toward it.”
That time can’t come soon enough for many of the volunteers.
“These Vets are my family,” Scheuerell said. “I miss them.”