Each year, Vernon Crawford and Jack McKinley say the same thing.
“Doc and I, we keep saying as long as our health holds up, we’ll do it one more year,” Crawford said, laughing.
Together he and McKinley, or “Doc” — McKinley is a former dentist — have been the co-chairs of the Veterans Service Committee of the State College Elks Lodge No. 1600 for the past four years. Through their efforts, they’ve raised thousands of dollars to help local veterans and those wounded in battle.
They’re not slowing down. Former veterans themselves, they said interacting with other servicemen gives them energy besides a perspective on life that is hard to replicate. When they meet with wounded veterans, for instance, they see it as resilience personified. By comparison, raising money seems less difficult. Everything does.
“You realize what they’ve been through, and it just makes you feel good that you were able to help out,” McKinley said. “It makes you feel kind of humble, too.”
The pair joined the Elks Lodge about half a century ago — 46 years for McKinley, 52 years for Crawford — and cited their upbringings in deciding to join. The lodges, which orchestrate a number of programs to serve their communities, quickly became a second home.
Their extended families, meanwhile, grew significantly. Through programs such as Socks for Soldiers, Quilts of Valor, Trout Unlimited and more, the Veterans Service Committee has donated to several causes helping current or former soldiers. Both Crawford and McKinley credited Brian Querry, the director of the Centre County Veterans’ Affairs Office, in supporting their efforts and the health and well-being of county veterans.
Most of the committee’s work revolves around keeping things fun. On Sept. 27, the group played bingo at the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona with patients, and donated money for prizes and food. They assist with the activity two to three times a year, McKinley said. Additional activities include Altoona Curve and State College Spikes baseball games, visits to the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home and regular dinners.
During the holiday season, they do a caroling event with the veterans at the hospital. McKinley said an accompanist usually comes along and performs a show after the chorus abates. But the time spent singing together is his favorite, he added.
“Then you really interact, and the people really love it,” he said.
“At the Christmas (event), everybody comes,” Crawford added.
Other excursions have included fishing and hunting outings at Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club. Though some are limited physically, McKinley said, it seems ancillary compared to their spirit. After a few minutes spent with them,“limited” quickly becomes an ill-fitting term.
“You learn one thing: No matter how bad a hand you’re dealt, some people can just rise above that,” McKinley said. “These people have strength, and it shows you we all have strength.”
More information about the Elks Lodge and the Veterans Service Committee can be found on the organization’s Facebook page and website.
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy