Culver rolls out red carpet for injured veterans

Culver rolled out the red carpet and opened its heart recently for the families of several wounded U.S. veterans, something organizers hope will become an annual affair.
What began as an almost chance conversation between Culver Academies' International Director Tony Giraldi (also a 1975 graduate of the school) and a few members of the school's board of trustees, became a collaboration between a number of national, international, and local organizations to make some very positive things happen for veterans' families.
"(Culver trustee) Jud Little, (Culver Legion Board president) Whitney Alvis and her husband Mike and I went to the National Finals Rodeo in December in Las Vegas," recalls Giraldi. Sitting around the lunch table, the group began discussing the Wrangler company giving part of its proceeds to the Wounded Warriors project.
"We looked at each other," says Giraldi. "I said, 'Could we do this? Would you guys help with this scholarship? This is perfect for Culver."
Among the results: four six week Summer Camp scholarships of $6,500 each, and four families attending Culver's one-week Family Camp in August.
The effort not only involves the Wounded Warrior (woundedwarriorproject.org) program itself, but the Yellow Ribbon Fund (yellowribbonfund.org) -- both of which strive to assist wounded soldiers returning home and their families -- as well as the State Police and a number of Culver Academies graduates and trustees, such as Bobby Christoph, Sally Giffen (CGA 1975), and Ray Brooks, trustee Mike Wilcox, General Rick Sherlock (a 1976 Culver graduate), Debbie Foersch (wife to Deputy Commandant Col. Foersch), in addition to Little and the Alvises. Kristie and John Schiller, though they have no direct connection to Culver, also helped make the endeavor possible.
Says Whitney Alvis, "We are honored to be a part of the Wounded Warrior program, and are so happy that the program was so successful in its first year! We believe it is a wonderful way to recognize not only those in our armed forces but also their family members, who sacrifice for all of us as well."
The four families attending Family Camp were honored in mid-August with a ceremony on the Woodcraft Camp grounds involving Academies leaders, the Culver VFW Post 6919, and Culver's Knights of Columbus.
After an introduction by Woodcraft and Family Camp director Sonny Adkins, VFW Post Commander Bryce Lindvall thanked the soldiers "from our hearts" and expressed thanks to the Academy for hosting the event. He presented each man with a gift from the Post, after which Post Ladies Auxiliary president Margaret Dehne presented a Blue Star flag, letter, and poppy pin to each. She said as a little girl she learned "what it was to have veterans in our family," and thanked each veteran and their families.
Rick Tompos, representing the Knights of Columbus, one of whose aspects is patriotism, he noted, also thanked the men for serving and presented gifts to each on behalf of the Knights as well as the Academies. Debbie Foersch of the Academies represented Giraldi, who was out of the country at the time, during the ceremony. She noted she's been a Marine wife for 26 years (her husband, Warren, is current Deputy Commandant of Cadets at the school) and is presently the mother of two Marines, one of whom is in Afghanistan.
Following mention of the presence of Pearl Harbor veteran and Culver resident Jim DeWitt at the ceremony, Tompos' son Adam Tompos played "Taps" for the men to close the ceremony, after which the VFW groups served the men, their families, and guests cake and punch.
"Culver's military connection is with leadership because we teach our kids to be responsible, to make a difference," notes Giraldi. "I think our mission is to take care of other people -- that's what our military and prefect system is all about.
"This is our way of contributing and making a difference," he says of bringing the families to Culver. "When you talk to these guys, you want to cry every time. (We complain about things that are) nothing when you're in your 30s and you have injuries that will be with you for the rest of your life."
"For us it's about saying you have a home at Culver and you always will. How could we not do this?"
For additional information on Culver Supporting our Troops, contact Tony Giraldi at giraldt@culver.org or 574-842-8332.