Veterans fundraise for Fisher House set for city

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 - 11:44pm

The second annual "Service Above Self: Honoring Our Veterans" event was held Wednesday to share veterans’ stories with the community as well as to fundraise for a new Fisher House on site at the Ann Arbor’s Veteran’s Affairs Hospital.

Fisher Houses are residences where veterans and their relatives can stay at little to no cost as they and their loved ones receive treatment at the hospital. Michigan is home to 640,000 veterans, but currently there are no Fisher Houses in the state.

The event was hosted by the Ann Arbor Rotary Club and the nonprofit organization Build it for the Brave and organized by the University’s Veteran and Military Services Program.

Fisher Houses must be approved by both the Fisher Foundation and the Veteran’s Association before building begins. The Ann Arbor Veteran’s Hospital recently received this approval, meaning it can start building its Fisher House in 2018. However, though the project has been approved, $3.5 million need to be raised to fund it.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.), who attended the event, said houses are a key part of recovery for veterans and hopes it is a step in the right direction.

“They’ve realized what an important part of a veteran’s rehabilitation process it is to have a place (like the Fisher House),” Dingell said. “We’re saving lives that weren’t saved in Vietnam.”

Incoming University of Michigan regent Ron Weiser (R) also attended the event and offered to match any donation at the reception.

Karen Kerry, an event organizer and former president of the Rotary Club, said she hopes all Veteran's Week events on campus sparks community conversation on the importance of veterans’ service.

“Veteran’s Day is a really important holiday, but no one really celebrates veterans like we think they should be celebrated,” Kerry said. “Every veteran has a story.”

In addition to the Fisher House fundraising, the event also focused on the stories of seven veterans. Each had the opportunity to speak in front of the filled auditorium about their experiences in the military, and many used the opportunity to share their personal experiences with Fisher Houses.

Many audience members were veterans themselves, including ninety-five-year-old August Bolino of Silver Springs, Md., who a World War II veteran and spoke about his time overseas.

“I’m staying with my son in Ann Arbor here and he said that I should go,” Bolino said. “I flew 30 missions, including two on D-Day … I’ve got a thousand stories!”

The program began with siblings Kevin Trimble, a veteran of the War in Afghanistan, and Deborah Trimble, who fought in Iraq.

Kevin lost both of his legs and his left arm in combat when a bomb detonated next to him. For both Trimbles, the Fisher House where they stayed during Kevin’s recovery had an important effect.

“I still am indebted to the people there who assisted me, and I later found out that the extensive medical care and treatment that I received there affected more than just me, but also my family,” Kevin Trimble said.

Deborah Trimble said she was so deeply affected by her experience at the Fisher House that it prompted her to make a life-changing decision to start medical school at the University of Michigan this year, at age 34.

“The healthcare team … gave us hope, and life,” she said. “It gave me my little brother back. If I could give that to one person — one family — my life would have meaning.”

Matt Drake, a veteran of the Iraq War, said he decided to leave college after Sept. 11 to fight in the Army. After just five weeks in Iraq, he was severely injured and sustained a brain injury when 200 pounds of explosives detonated next to his vehicle.

Drake said his long road to recovery was also impacted by a Fisher House.

“My mom got to spend two nights in a Fisher House in Germany,” Drake said. “To her, that Fisher House felt like a hug from home.”

Charlie Plumb, a Vietnam War Navy veteran who spent six years as a prisoner of war in an eight-by-eight-foot cell after being shot down over Hanoi, was the last to speak.

As Plumb told his story, he also encouraged the audience to think about why they were there.

“You would not be here if you weren’t concerned about someone else,” Plumb said. “You will never be prisoners of war. Hope and pray that none of you will ever be injured in combat. But how can we serve? We can serve those who have served, and continue to do that by a donation to the Fisher House.”