Veterans Wall of Honor Fosters Community at UCC’s Brewster Place
It started as a few photos broadcast over the closed circuit TV system at Brewster Place, an older adult community in Topeka, Kan. Brewster’s resident services group regularly posted photos of residents and staff who were military veterans. Over time, the group collected a large number of photos.
“One year, in conjunction with a Fourth of July event, we printed all the pictures and hung them on a large banner on a wall. After that program, the comment was made, ‘It would be nice if these stayed up all the time,” says Jeremy Hall, director of Brewster Foundation, a fund-raising initiative of the community. “We have a very proactive resident services group, and they made it happen!”
Today, some 94 photos comprise Brewster’s Veterans Wall of Honor, stretching down a hallway in one of the buildings.
“The wall photos are on a lower rail on the wall, and art works completed by residents are on the upper rail,” Hall says. “The walkway is very long, so we have some space to grow in the current location.”
The Wall of Honor is a way to celebrate the military service of both staff and residents, and includes current and past residents and staff, plus spouses who’ve served. “We want to acknowledge the commitment and patriotism, and that does not start or stop with residency,” Hall adds.
The wall has no particular order — residents and staff photos are together, as are the time periods in which people served. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the more recent struggles in Iraq are represented, with formal military portraits intermingled with photos taken during deployment. Together, they provide a powerful collage of service that proves meaningful to all.
“One of my favorites is two sailors, with one basically up on the shoulders of the other, both wearing their winter white dress uniforms,” says Hall. “Both residents and staff will stop and look at some of the photos. It is very touching when a spouse will sit and look at the picture of a loved one, remembering another time. You can feel the pride and love they have for that person.”
The Wall of Honor also provides an opportunity for conversation, reflection, and occasionally good humor. Hall tells of witnessing several housekeepers talking to a resident whose husband’s photo was on the wall.
“Her husband is still a resident and a very nice guy,” Hall says. “The conversation … revolved around how ‘incredibly handsome’ her husband was in his photo, and that he really did have ‘movie star good looks.’ The wife just beamed as these ladies commented on what a ‘hunk’ he was. It is one of the wonderful interactions that this wall can cause between residents and staff.”
Future plans include expanding the tributes to Brewster veterans. Brewster Place is in the middle of a campus remodel. Part of the renovation includes the installation of elevated walkways to make it easier for residents to move between residential buildings and a Cultural Arts and Dining Center, currently under construction.
“We plan to designate one of the walkways as a Veterans Memorial Walkway,” says Hall. “The plan is to add to the current display started by resident services and have some tributes in this area that would add to the Veterans Wall.”
Possible additions will include a touchscreen kiosk where users could look up a photo of a veteran along with a small overview of their military career. Brewster Place currently is raising funds to be able to make the walkway and kiosk a reality.
“We will still have the photos along the walk; the electronic kiosk would be in addition to the pictures,” Hall adds. The kiosk will allow all past residents to remain part of the tribute, even when space finally becomes limited, he says. “I can already see a time when we could have three generations from one family that has served, and then all three became residents.”
For now, the wall provides a focal point for interaction for residents and staff alike.
“It is a wonderful aspect to have both staff and residents involved,” says Hall. “We work on intergenerational programming, and often that is working with schools, or younger kids, and our residents. It is sometimes easy to forget that much staff interaction is ‘intergenerational programming.’
“Our staff proudly served, our residents proudly served, and it is wonderful to see out veterans from many different eras, side by side on that wall. It does create a real feeling of community.”
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