YOUNTVILLE – Areas of the nation’s oldest and largest veterans home just got a great new look and new facilities on June 19, thanks to more than 400 volunteers from Home Depot, Habitat for Humanity, the Tug McGraw Foundation, the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership, and others.
They gave the 135-year-old Veterans Home of California-Yountville, owned and operated by the California Department of Veterans Affairs, new bocce courts, renovated horse shoe pits, and upgraded the Tug McGraw Brain Food Garden with new structures and landscaping. Projects included kitchen remodeling in some of the dormitories, along with landscaping and other beautification projects. It marked the third consecutive year of the effort at Yountville, with the number of volunteers and scope of the projects growing exponentially each year.
Air Force veteran Joe Grunditz said the Air Force placed great emphasis on community service. Retired from the service, he now is one of the coordinators for Habitat for Humanity, which takes the lead role in selecting the areas needing improvement and determining the projects to be done. He believes the current generation of veterans has greater access to veterans benefits and programs, and it is incumbent on the younger vets to do what they can for those who preceded them.
“Mental and physical health, job training, financial training benefits – the generation before us had none of that,” he said. “The Vietnam guys got hit the hardest. They got none of it. This is the very least we can do for them, and it’s a grass roots effort.”
Grass roots, indeed. It drew Barry Mion, who served “42 years, 5 months, 15 days” in the Army and would have stayed in longer if he hadn’t been 60 when his unit deployed to Iraq in 2002. “They wouldn’t let me go,” he said. He assembled benches that now surround a majestic oak at the Veterans Home’s picnic area and next to the brand new lawn.
Likewise, 25-year-old Ashley Green, an Airman 1st Class in the Air Force, came to build chairs and pieces for the bean bag game called “cornhole.” “It’s my first time making anything like that,” Green said.
Air Force veteran Bryan Brown is a Home Depot employee. He led a group of volunteers spreading mulch beneath a stand of trees. “It’s a beautiful event,” he said. “We’re giving back to those who gave to us.”
Tim Henry, another veteran and Home Depot employee, belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization in Benicia. He served aboard the USS Trenton in the Persian Gulf during the Desert Shield and Desert Storm campaigns. “We’re always involved with veterans organizations,” he said. “It’s important to me because I know what it’s like to serve.” He added, “Another reason I am here today doing this is that being a combat veteran, I could end here one day: it’s important to give back.”
One volunteer isn’t a veteran, but has a deeper connection to the Yountville Veterans Home than perhaps any of the others. DeWitt Kinne Burnham Jr.’s great-grandfather, Captain C. Mason Kinne, was president of the Lincoln Chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization founded by former Union Soldiers who fought in the Civil War. In 1880, Kinne and the GAR bought 900 acres in Yountville. They built a home for 13 veterans from the Civil and Spanish-American wars. It eventually became the Veterans Home of California-Yountville. The state of California took over the home in 1897.
“Whenever there is a Yountville (project) day, I want to be here,” Burnham said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The volunteers finished the majority of the projects by noon, had lunch and a “thank-you” ceremony before a group of them played a softball game against a team of veterans in the historic ballpark at the Veterans Home. Habitat for Humanity and Home Depot already have agreed to repeat the effort in 2020, Habitat volunteer Grunditz said.