Over the past few weeks, Hernando Sun has been focusing on people who are making a difference in our community–in small ways and large. Some are heroes because they’ve overcome obstacles in their lives. Now, I’d like to focus on a group who are heroes in every sense of the word. They served their country in the armed forces and are now, as retirees, serving their fellow veterans.
Glen Lakes Veterans and Friends (GLVF) is a rather small group of individuals who have achieved amazing things in the past six years. It was three veterans who came up with the concept. They saw a need and with their collective skills developed a plan of action.
The organization has raised more than $1/4 million dollars through its Golf Outing held every year on Veterans’ Day. These monies have gone to various veterans organizations, such as the American Legion and the VFW, to purchase equipment, hire veterans service officers (people who help veterans navigate the red tape in order to get their benefits),
make repairs to their buildings and other projects that these groups cannot fund on their own.
There isn’t enough space in the newspaper to highlight everyone involved in GLVF, so we’re focusing on five veterans that have been instrumental in moving the organization forward. George Friel, Ron Ford and Denny Bloom founded the all-volunteer 501(c) (3) non-profit and Richard (Dicky) Keene and Mike Cummings came on board later.
George Friel is a retired Major General. Originally from West Virginia, he served in the Army from 1960 to 1998. Friel served in Vietnam during that conflict and during his 38 year career was stationed in various parts of the world and the United States, such as Germany; Ft. Knox, Kentucky and Ft. Benning, Georgia.
He also served as Interim Commander of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, an installation where weapons, tactics and military vehicle prototypes are experimented with and tested. Friel was also responsible for a $600 million budget for the Nuclear Biological and Chemical Defense Command for six years and directed over 1,100 scientists and engineers.
After he retired, he became a consultant to various organizations in the defense industry, especially those dealing with the chemical and biological sector. It is only natural that Friel, with his distinguished leadership in both the military and civilian arena, would want to continue serving his fellow veterans and the community.
Ron Ford, is an Army veteran who served in Germany from 1965 to 1968 as part of the Military Police force. Although he didn’t see combat, he was injured while apprehending a GI who had killed a young lady.
When he left active duty he used his GI benefits to go to college and then spent his career in banking. During his career, Ford served on the boards of various organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan foster care system. He was also a county commissioner and was instrumental in getting a tax millage passed to hire veterans’ service officers. Ford also helped establish a veterans’ court.
Denny Blum, another founder of Glen Lakes Veterans and Friends, was drafted into the Army in 1966 and served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. After being discharged he built a successful shoe business with stores in six cities in Wisconsin and then acquired rental real estate for eighteen years.
Blum explains how the GLVF got started. “I met Ron Ford and we saw a need to create a veterans’ organization here in Glen Lakes. We invited a group of vets to my house and explained our desire to put on a golf outing to save a DAV chapter who had lost their building, as well as help others who served.”
He goes on to explain the feeling that he and the others get when they see the results of their work. “Many lives have been touched by our efforts. It is a pleasure to have a widow come up and thank us for the honor guard at her husband’s funeral or to see six elderly guys in a veterans nursing home enjoy the computers we provided or give a young vet money to bury his three-year-old son.”
Richard (Dicky) Keane was in the Air Force for five years, serving from 1982 – 1987. He’s a naturally giving person and has jumped in with both feet, organizing the fund drive to build the Veterans Memorial Wall which will be located just inside the entrance to Glen Lakes. In less than ten months they have raised more than $20,000 for the project and are almost halfway to their goal of $50,000. One stumbling block is that the builder who they were working with has backed out of the project, so they’re looking for another builder.
Dicky, along with Ron Ford, also established the Golf Academy Program, SAVES. It’s a six-week clinic to teach veterans how to play golf or hone the skills of those who already play. The program offers a high level of instruction from a PGA instructor.
“The purpose of the program is to get PTSD veterans out of their houses and bond with each other. We hope the program SAVES lives and reduces the suicide rate among veterans, especially those with PTSD,” Keane stated.
Mike Cummings, who maintains the organization’s website and Facebook page, served in the Air Force for twenty-three years, attaining the rank of Senior Master Sergeant. While in the military, he was involved in mentoring and social programs for military men and women. Mike also worked on numerous community volunteer programs, such as food and clothing drives, community food banks, and disaster relief efforts. In his post-military career, he assisted the underprivileged community in helping them to prepare and pursue education and employment opportunities through his role as a computer science professor.
“Having been fortunate with a fulfilling military career as well as a successful post-military career, I truly believe that providing service to the community and giving back is my social responsibility,” Cummings remarks.
Besides the Memorial Wall project and the Golf Academy, GLVF has another accomplishment to boast about. The organization now has its own Veterans’ Service Advisor.
Despite its many accomplishments, Glen Lakes Veterans and Friends still relies on the community’s support. The men and women they help have served their country, so it’s only right that the community should serve them.
Here are some ways that you can help: monetary donations for the Memorial Wall and for other projects, sponsorships for their annual Golf Outing coming up in less than a month and donations of gift certificates and items for the Silent Auction taking place the day of the golf outing. Any business that becomes a sponsor or donates to the silent auction will be recognized on the organization’s website, in all the publicity materials, and in the golf outing program. GLVF also promotes your company to its members and the community and urges them to patronize your business, so it’s a win-win situation.
It’s certain that all 114 members of GLVF share the sentiments of Mike Cummings when he states, “Volunteering affords the opportunity to invest into a community and the people who live in it. I believe volunteering provides a valuable service to one’s community.”
To donate items for the upcoming Golf Outing or to get involved in Glen Lakes Veterans and Friends in other ways, log onto www.glenlakesvets.org or call Ron Ford at 906-291-0587.