An overstuffed chair sat alone in the middle of a room filled with hundreds of nursing home veterans, caregivers, and community supporters Wednesday at the annual Nursing Home Veterans Christmas Party at James Dickey Post 23 of the American Legion.
A year ago, one of the main founders of the event, and the man who sustained it over the years, Jim Saddler, sat in that chair for the last time. The veteran leader passed away this past year.
“Dad wouldn’t have wanted this to be about him,” Saddler’s son, Rich Saddler said. “But I just wanted that chair here one more time to feel his presence.”
The event was packed to the walls and out into the hallways.
“The turnout is awesome this year,” Rich Saddler said. “I think we set up for about 350 seats and we are at standing room only. I think the weather has a lot to do with it. A lot of the nursing home veterans were able to get out because of the nice weather. It’s an awesome turnout.”
Rich Saddler said every nursing home veteran gets everything he or she asks for.
“They get a home-cooked meal which I’m sure is probably a little bit better than some food that they’re used to,” Rich Saddler said. “They were asked what Christmas gifts they wanted and just about anything they asked for they’re getting. If one person asked for two gifts and this person over here asked for 12 gifts they are getting whatever they asked for.”
American Legion brass was present throughout the room.
“We have our state Legion officers – the Department Commander and all of his officers,” Rich Saddler said. “We have a couple of past commanders, state commanders from the state of Kentucky with us today and we have a lot of our local politicians.”
One of the local political leaders was Municipal Court Judge Steve Mowery.
“This is a fabulous opportunity to pay tribute to the people who contributed a major part of their life to the protection of our country,” Mowery said. “It’s a great event. Jane Saddler, Jim Saddler, Rich and (Rich’s sister)Amy, we can’t say enough good things about them.”
Jane Saddler was visibly moved by the turnout and reflected on what the event means to her.
“It’s my Jim. He’s here today,” Jane Saddler said. “In so many ways it has been a help to me to be able to continue doing this in Jim’s memory. And as long as I possibly can, myself and the kids and all of our helpers, all the people that donate, we’re going to try to continue it as long as possible.”
Volunteers organize the hundreds of gifts to be presented to the nursing home veterans Wednesday at the annual Nursing Home Veterans Christmas Party at Post 23 of the American Legion in Portsmouth.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.