By Frank Lewis
There are milestones that come up on us after the passing of a loved one. Maybe it’s their birthday or anniversary. One such day is coming up. It is the 25th annual Nursing Home Veterans Christmas Party, the first ever without Jim Saddler. Saddler passed away this past year.
“I sure hoped Jim would make it, but it didn’t happen,” Jane Saddler, Jim Saddler’s wife said.
This year’s event will be held on Dec. 16 with nursing home veterans arriving at around 11 a.m., a ceremony is held at 12 noon, and then these people Jim Saddler prized so highly, will have home cooked meal. Jane said they hoped to serve 125-130 nursing home veterans. Each will receive many gifts.
“I’ve got plenty of helpers,” Jane said. “People are so good to help. The (American) Legion members, the Shawnee Boat Club, SOCF (Southern Ohio Correctional Facility), the Portsmouth Fire Department. I can’t even begin to name them all.”
It all began 25 years ago when the Saddler family would visit Grandma Gypsie, Jim’s mother in the nursing home. When the family brought in meals and shared the day with grandma, Jim began to make friends with nursing home veterans who seemingly never received visitors. So he would go and get them and wheel them into the room to share family fellowship with them. From that day and until his dying day, he pledged to the nursing home veterans that they would never be alone or forgotten, that there would always be a Santa Claus Christmas and a picnic in the summer. Jim Saddler , Jim Bailey, Ron Bower and Maurice Liddle kicked the fundraising off. Maurice owner of a local bar “Pat’s Cafe”, raised thousands of dollars for these parties. The local biker groups have a bucket drop in the spring for our summer Nursing Home Veterans Picnic on the beautiful Ohio River at the Shawnee Boat Club. Rich Saddler, Jim’s son said – “On these occasions when the nursing home veterans are the guests of honor, all is again right with the world.”
Jim and his family have personally collected Christmas lists and made certain the Nursing Home Veterans got everything they wanted and then some. “What the Veterans want, the Veterans get” was Jim’s mantra. Sadly, Jim Saddler left us this year after a long courageous battle with cancer. But Jim’s family wants to ensure that his legacy lives on and that his Nursing Home Veterans continue to be honored and cared for.
“We’re hoping to carry on the tradition as long as we possibly can,” Jane said. “As long as everybody’s health holds up and our minds are still okay.”
Jane Saddler said Wednesday (Nov. 11) marks the first day gift tags for the veterans will be available at Post 23. People are asked to come to the post and pick up a tag from the bulletin board downstairs in the club room. They can then buy gifts to be given to that veteran during the Christmas party.
“To see the Nursing Home Veterans come into the James R. Saddler Veterans Memorial Hall (at James Dickey Post 23) is heartbreaking,” Rich said. “To see them stand at attention to pledge ‘Old Glory’ is heartwarming. They look for seats with the assistance of Portsmouth Fire Department, Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, American Legion James Dickey Post 23, Shawnee Boat Club and other angels in disguise. Presents have been wrapped and sweet goodies bagged. Now they wait for Santa to arrive, bellies full with a hot meal. Music is playing and a little dancing is going on with some of the Vets and ‘Dad’s Elves’. Then, who do we hear but good ole St. Nick. The old faces light up like those of children on Christmas morning.”
Jim Saddler’s Nursing Home Veterans Christmas Program is also on Facebook. It is an auctions site with artwork from various local and international acclaimed family members. You can visit the page and join at https://www.facebook.com/groups/763936250418549/
Donations can also be made to: Nursing Home Veterans Program, P.O. Box 1844, Portsmouth, Ohio 45662.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.