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Ann LePage visits Paris vets, gives heart-warming speech
VISITING VETS — First Lady Ann LePage sits next to 91-year-old Army veteran Chester Withers during her first visit to the Maine Veterans' Home on High Street in Paris on May 2. Withers has lived at the vets' home since 2007.
PARIS — Veterans in Paris were happy to shake hands with Maine's First Lady Ann LePage during her first visit to the Maine Veterans' Home on May 2.
Ellie Newell, admissions coordinator of the home, gave Mrs. LePage a tour of the facility, and along the way, introduced her to long-time residents and employees, and spoke about all the wonderful happenings at the facility.
One of the first stops was the rehabilitation room, where physical, occupational and speech-language therapy takes place.
"It's got a freshness feel to it," LePage commented, upon entering the room. LePage was impressed by the cleanliness of the facility.
She also said that she appreciated the facility's hard work in taking care of the residents, and the fact that they treat everyone equally.
According to Newell, the MVH is a 90-bed facility, which is currently occupied by 89 residents, and includes a 28-bed residential care unit. She also mentioned that there are 160 employees, and that each one does an incredible job in keeping the facility in the best shape possible.
"It's unbelievable what you guys do," LePage said, as she stood talking with Newell, and former Commander at the Norway Legion, William Bickford, Veteran Advisory Committee Chair Joe Cooney and Junior Vice Commander, Post 9787, Onni Raasumaa, who helped guide the tour.
The MVH also offers long-term care, dementia care, End of Life care, and other modern amenities and programs.
LePage also visited the veterans monuments at Moore Park in Paris, which includes more than 1,200 names, and gave a speech to about 30 veterans at the opening of their dinner meeting at the Paris VFW that same evening:
"All I want to say is thank you, very, very much, for inviting me down here; I had a great visit to the veterans' home, the monument was beautiful," she began.
"... I'd like to thank you for your patriotism and courage to step up and serve our nation ... two things I take a lot of pride in – one is my husband and my family, the other one is, support for the military and their families.
"When Paul decided to run for office, it still hadn't hit me that if he'd won, I'd be in the public light. I was used to running around town with flannel shirts and baseball hats on. But during the campaign, I never really thought about what I was going to have to do, if he'd won, as far as public responsibility.
" ... The more I thought about it, the more I started to get anxiety about it, because I always like to be in the back of the room, not the front of the room.
" ... but I knew I wanted to do something that meant a lot to me. I didn't want to do something just for the sake of doing it; I wanted to do something that would make a difference. So, this is how I came to the military.
"I was riding in the car one day with my mom and my daughter, and started thinking, because I knew I'd have to pick an initiative ... so I thought, what makes me proud to be an American? What makes me wake up, feeling like I live in the best country on Earth? What makes me tick?"
According to LePage, after several meetings, she came to realize that she wanted to focus on military men and women and their families. And so far, she said, she's had "a lot of fun" hosting military families once a month at the Blaine House.
"We had some veterans up from the Augusta home over for dinner, and we really, really like that," she said.
And, she said, there's two things she's done, that she's "absolutely loved."
"The first one was going to Arlington Cemetery. I did Wreaths Across America. I went on that convoy, and we took 86,000 wreaths down. When we got down to Arlington, they had so many volunteers there; thousands of volunteers. We laid 86,000 wreaths in less than an hour.
"People were scrambling to find wreaths to lay. They not only bring the wreaths down. They go back in January and pick them up ... and it really broke their hearts to take the wreaths away, and their message is very, very simple for Wreaths Across America: Remember the fallen, honors those that serve and their families, and teach our children the value of freedom.
"On the route, we stopped at some VFWs and we stopped at some schools, and I remember one night, we [went] to a school, they had a meal for us, and the kids were outside in the pouring rain, waving their flags singing God Bless America.
"It doesn't get much better than that. "
The other event she said that "really struck home" with her was when Colonel Sutherland spoke a couple of months ago, in Portland and Bangor.
"He was talking about the importance of hiring veterans, and the skills they have. The message resonated with me, and I'm moving forward with encouraging business leaders that, if they want to expand, they really need to look upon the veterans community ... " said LePage, on the verge of crying.
"These men and women possess invaluable skill sets, but even more, they bring a sense of team, a sense of courage and loyalty to the workplace. The service men and women deploy, and put their lives in danger to protect us here at home.
"Then they return home, and oftentimes, they are expected to act as though they never left. Reintigration back into the family life and the workplace can be a challenge, but Colonel Sutherland said it best: These people are not victims — they are veterans.
"Our veterans are proud ... The goal is that our veterans lead productive and sustainable lives. Many of you here today have risked your lives to preserve our nation's ideals, and the priveleges and rights that Maine families enjoy today.
"You volunteered, you proved your confidence, fortitude and unquestionable commitment to a job well-done ... As Americans, we value our military and we value their courageous service ... It's crucial that we say 'thank you' to our vets, and welcome them home.
"Honoring them makes me proud to be an American," she continued, tears forming in her eyes. "It's with a heavy heart that we remember that too many brave men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe here at home.
" ... Supporting our troops is not something we do because it's nice, or makes us feel good. Supporting our troops is a responsibility that we have as Americans. Making a difference in helping one vet pays tribute to all those who didn't come home.
"So, it's with tremendous respect that I humbly thank you for your service. God bless all of you."
MONUMENTAL — LePage chats with Paris Post 9787 Junior Vice Commander Onni Raasumaa at the Moore Park veterans monuments in Paris.