As construction begins in earnest on the new $269 million skilled nursing facility at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville, CalVet recognizes and remembers two remarkable women who left their imprints on the 138-year-old campus.
Mary Dunaway helped it grow in the 1950s. Virginia Mae Days, the only woman to lead the California Department of Veterans Affairs, saved it in the 1970s. Their impacts continue to be felt throughout all of CalVet’s eight veterans’ homes today.
An Army nurse during World War I, Dunaway knew many women nurses killed or wounded during the Great War. Yet, the second World War came and went before women received veteran status and access to benefits.
In October 1945, Dunaway toured the Yountville Home campus and identified two glaring needs. She believed there should be quality housing for women veterans. And she believed the Home should include a place where family members could stay affordably while visiting their veteran kin living there. After all, it was the only state-run veterans home in California at the time, and families often drove long distances to see their loved ones.
Dunaway got both. Dunaway spearheaded the drive to build the women’s barracks at the Home, which she dedicated in June 1951, with the first women moving in on September 6, 1952.
And the California Federation of Women’s Clubs, of which she was a member, raised the $60,000 needed to build the Hostess House, which opened in 1950. The Hostess House housed visitors comfortably for more than 70 years. Needing heavy repairs and with obsolete plumbing, the house was razed in January to make room for the new skilled nursing facility.
Days, meanwhile, became the only woman to head CalVet, serving as its director from 1975 until 1981. In 1976, the Department of Finance recommended closing the Yountville Home, which had opened in 1884. Days argued to not only keep the Home open, but to invest in it instead. She prevailed.
The state funded improvements to the Yountville Home. In 1977, Days created a task force to consider allowing non-veteran spouses to join their veteran spouses at the Home, she again prevailed. The first couple moved into the Home on May 8, 1978.
Between 1996 and 2013, seven more homes were added throughout the state—from Redding in the north to Chula Vista in the south.
Consequently, the achievements of Dunaway and Days not only benefitted the residents of the Yountville Home, but became integral to the care delivered to all veterans and their spouses throughout the Veterans Homes of California system of care.