Honoring Heroes Beyond Memorial Day: Concordia Residents Celebrate Those Who Served

This news story was originally posted in The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMAN: Honoring heroes beyond Memorial Day: Concordia residents celebrate those who served

 Traditionally, Memorial Day honors the men and women who died while serving in the military. At Concordia Senior Living in Oklahoma City, it’s a time where conversations often turn to the community’s residents – past and present – who served their country.

In the community’s Hall of Honor, 65 photos hang on the wall, representing Concordia residents or their spouses, alongside a powerful mural created by artist Kelley Farrar. Residents like to gather and talk about the veterans on the wall – some still among us to share their stories, others gone but never forgotten.

Concordia resident Jim Demaret, now in his 90s, proudly served in the U.S. Army from 1942-1946 and was stationed in the Philippines.

“We served during the best years of our lives and in my case, I lived through the Great Depression and working my way through college when the war happened,” he said.

He began his career working for a company in Bartlesville, but his life was changed with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“Those of us who are now in the twilight of our lives look back with pride that we served our nation in difficult times and believe in the old motto of duty, honor and country,” Demaret said.

He was part of a group of Concordia residents who made their Honor Flight in 2011 to Washington, D.C. The program was created to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices by transporting the heroes to Washington D.C. to visit their memorials.

Reflecting on his Honor Flight and the Hall of Honor at Concordia, Jim expressed his gratitude for the ability to recognize the sacrifice of his fellow soldiers and their families. The Concordia Hall of Honor is one of his favorite places to show his family and guests when they stop by for a visit.

Service is ingrained into this veteran.

Demaret, like many of Concordia’s residents, continues to serve others through organizations like the Hugs Project, AHA and Cancer Society. He has created more than 2,000 knit hats for infants at the hospital as well as for cancer survivors, and has made countless crosses. The crosses have been distributed to servicemen and women all over the world. 

Fellow World War II veteran, Don Connelly, served in the Navy from 1944-1945. He also now lives at Concordia.

“I didn’t want to be drafted into the Army, so I joined the Navy,” he said.

He spent his time aboard a destroyer.

Smart and good with his hands, he first went to instrument school and then on to become an administrator on his ship. He left the service after the war. His ship eventually became a test subject during the Bikini Atoll testing program.

“My service was rather short and at a very young age. Being included in the Hall of Honor with everybody means a lot,” he said.

He added that the Hall of Honor has created a sense of community among the veterans at Concordia.

“Knowing so many guys on the wall is really special,” he said.

It is also a wonderful place for the spouses of veterans. Concordia resident Betty Fisher is proud to see her husband’s photo displayed in the Hall of Honor.

“It is a place we can show our friends how much we at Concordia care about our family that have served our country,” she said.

For resident Dellora Manske, the Hall of Honor is a place to remember her late husband.

“I have a very special connection; because I can have the memory of my dear husband Edison here with me,” she said.

“It is important to honor these men and women who have given themselves, time and service to keep America great. God’s blessing on our country,” Manske added.

As Memorial Day draws near, it is a time to remember those veterans no longer here to share their stories, but it is also a good time to honor those who served and seek out their stories. Many Concordia residents are quite humble about their service and often silent about their stories but they have shared, knowing their Concordia community values their commitment and service – and has deep meaning to residents and employees alike.

 “The Concordia Veteran’s Hall of Honor is something that makes an incredible impact as we walk through the hall each day,” said Concordia’s Human Resources director Kristen Dobrovolny.

“Looking at each and every resident’s photo, thinking about the sacrifice the Greatest Generation made for future generations is a reminder that as employees, we have the privilege to serve and honor these veterans through our work at Concordia, which is both humbling and a blessing at the same time,” said Dobrovolny, who served as a U.S. Airforce Sergeant from 1993-2000.

 “We owe so much to the veterans of the wars before our time, and the Hall of Honor is a beautiful, daily reminder of those who served before us,” she added.