Sometimes, the most appreciated gifts don’t cost a thing

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2007

I’ve got a new best friend.

His name is Junius Markey, Jr., and he is a resident at the Southeast Louisiana Veteran’s Home.

I met Junius last week when I stopped by for an event with Omni Bank, which was making a large financial commitment to a senior security program at the center.

But we actually became best buddies on Tuesday, when I was part of the LaPlace Rotary Club’s Christmas Party with the Veterans event.

The Rotary Club wanted to do something special for the veterans at the St. John retirement home, so we picked a normal meeting day, and turned it into a party at the home instead.

Administrator John Salter said there are now about 40 residents there, so we got someone to visit with each one, and get a small wish list for Christmas for them.

Like I told Junius when he and I were hanging out on Tuesday during the party, “you’ve got a present coming from someone in the club, but don’t think you’re going to get a Lexus.”

So we just tried to make it a fun day for the vets out there, with the LaPlace Elementry Bell Choir performing, while we gave them presents, had bingo games, gave away some raffle prizes, and had some desserts for them.

All that stuff was nice, and I know they appreciated it, but the best thing we could do at the home was to just be there and spend time with these men, and even a few women.

Many of the residents there have regular visits from family or friends, but the truth is that many of them have limited visits and are most appreciative for someone to just come and visit.

So after meeting Junius last week, I spied him with his Indianapolis Colts hat on, and immediately headed over to visit with him.

Junius is just a cool guy. Unfortunately, he is only 59, but is now forced to live in a retirement home with some assistance, since he had a pretty serious stroke a couple of years ago. He said he initially went to a New Orleans hospital, but then got moved to the Vet’s Home after it opened in May.

For anyone who has visited the Southeast Veteran’s Home, you know it is a special place. Yes, it is still a retirement home, and even a regular nursing home for some who need complete 24-hour-a-day care. But if you had to put a loved one in a spot like that, you couldn’t find anything better than what is provided out on Airline Highway in Reserve.

Still, for a guy like Junius, you can tell he would rather be back at home, “with my woman,” as he likes to say.

Junius served in the Air Force and went to Vietnam in the 60s, then came back home to Luling and worked for Union Carbide, then as a yard foreman for Landry Lumber Yard, and finally as a night store manager for a convenience store.

But one day when he was working on his truck, he said something happened, and all he remembers is his brother finding him on the ground outside. That was the end of life as he knew it.

So on Tuesday, I just hung out with him. He loves football, and especially the Colts. But he said he also loves the Saints and LSU, and fortunately is the guy who has the remote control for the TV in his room.

He was married once, and had two boys and two girls, but has been with his current “woman” as he keeps calling her for so many years “that we just say we are like we are married.”

I didn’t argue with him.

My wife and son Mikey also came on Tuesday, since we pulled the name of a veteran named Lloyd Wilcox. He was unable to make it down to the party, so my wife grabbed her basket of goodies she had shopped and bought for him, and headed down the hall to find his room.

Lloyd is 89, but don’t think the years have slowed him down mentally. He was telling my wife all about how good he cooked in the kitchen, and all about certain recipes and how to make them. And then he put in a few shots to the administrators with the federal government, which had me laughing.

My wife and Mikey stayed with Lloyd for a long time before I showed up at the door to let her know I had to get on to my next interview.

We said goodbye, and Lloyd got a big hug from my wife. But she and I assured our new friends that we will be back to see them.

My wife and I left there and talked about how important it obviously is that we make some time for some of these men. (There are only two women in the center.)

Right in our own backyard we have a bunch of men who are now facing their final years, and living in a retirement home. These are the men who went to war, defending the freedom we have today. Even though the home they are in is a good one, let’s face it, it’s not where anyone wants to end up.

But fate has put them there, and for those of us who are so blessed to have so much, and still have our health, we have a great opportunity right in front of us to do something for some folks who really need it.

You could show up at the Vet’s Home almost any day, and probably get easy approval to become a regular visitor for these guys. I’m not saying to just stroll in, but John Salter has always said to everyone that comes how appreciative he is for the company to these residents.

I have made a personal promise to Junius to stop and see him, and I know my wife plans to do the same for Lloyd. It’s something any of us could do, and it’s not something we should just do because it’s Christmas time.

Think about it. If you want to really reach out in an absolutely easy way to someone who would love your simple company to talk and visit with them, it is right in our own backyard.

During some of the party we held on Tuesday, I saw several of our Rotary members wiping away tears. You could tell they felt for the residents there. Not only was it appreciation for those who served in our Armed Forces for us all, but it has to be a touch of sadness to see them now in a retirement home.

I’m asking any of you to consider this. Call the home and ask if you can arrange a time to just come and visit. You don’t need to bring presents, or do anything more than give of yourself. It is something that would be the best Christmas present you could give to anyone.

The phone number for the Veteran’s Home is 985-479-4080.

Kevin Chiri is Publisher of L’Observateur and can be reached at (985) 652-9545 or at