VA clinic throws annual vets picnic

CALCUTTA – Friends chatted, music played, and plenty of hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled at Calcutta Square as the Veterans Administration outpatient clinic in Calcutta hosted the 10th annual Veterans Appreciation Picnic on Friday afternoon.

More than 600 military veterans and their family members attended the free event, which serves as a thank-you for their years of service and sacrifice. “We do it for our vets,” said Mary Ann Novak, an LPN at the clinic who helped organize the event. “It’s a recognition and thanks for all that they’ve done for us.”

Novak says the idea for a picnic began more than a decade ago when she began working at the Calcutta clinic and noted that other VA clinics were holding appreciation events for their patients. She believed that veterans in the East Liverpool area were every bit as deserving of recognition and became determined to do something about it.

In the 10 years since then, it has grown to the point where patients begin to ask about each year’s upcoming picnic when summer rolls around. “Every year, it’s gotten bigger and better,” Novak said. “They have a good time. You meet a lot of old friends and make new friends.”

Vietnam War veteran Gary Sullivan of East Liverpool says he knows the importance for his fellow vets of getting out and connecting with people who have shared the same experiences and understand. “Every veteran has plenty of bad days, but this appreciation picnic is one day we guarantee them will be a good day,” he said. His wife, Ruth Sullivan, is a member of the organizing committee for the picnic.

Sullivan says that many older vets are now homebound and don’t get a chance to be a part of the greater community on a regular basis. “Most veterans sit at home alone, your World War II veterans and Korean veterans. They’ve lost their spouse, they’re pretty much homebound and don’t go anywhere,” he said. Sullivan, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 66 in East Liverpool, said this picnic is a gives those vets that chance to reconnect.

A board nearby the entrance was pasted in red, white and blue with the names of picnic sponsors, including area VFW and American Legion posts and local businesses, which Novak says have also increased each year and now numbers too many to name. “Without them, we cannot pull this off,” she said.