FOX RIVER GROVE – The outdoor setting at Lions Park was the perfect backdrop Wednesday for the annual Chris Chigas Hospitalized Veterans Picnic.
More than 300 veterans were bused in from Chicago area hospitals for the 26th annual event hosted by Cary-Grove AMVETS Pearl Harbor Memorial Post 245.
“It’s a nice day for veterans to get away from the hospital and have some fun in the sun,” said Gary Foster, commander of the Cary-Grove AMVETS. “This is an event we all look forward to with familiar and new faces every year.”
Local volunteers served hamburgers and hot dogs while the former military members fished, listened to music and shared war stories, among other things.
This was Jerry Nixon’s fifth year participating in the annual picnic, which this year included veterans from the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago and Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago.
Each year, the event allows Nixon a chance to reconnect with other veterans, as well as the opportunity to win prizes playing his favorite game, bingo.
“I love getting around the vets because being a part of the military, there is an unwritten brotherly love between all of us,” said Nixon, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1979 to 1982. “And I love bingo, because I always win.”
Tim Murphy was attending his first picnic since admitting himself into Jesse Brown VA Medical Center for alcoholism.
The U.S. Navy veteran who served during Desert Storm saw the event as his first step toward a normal life.
“It’s good to get out for a day,” said Murphy, 48. “It gives me a taste of what it would be like to get back out in the world again.”
Aiding the veterans included local volunteers and members of area veteran organizations, as well as members of Boy Scout Troops 161 and 166.
Former Fox River Grove Scout Troop 166 Scoutmaster Rich Anderson has taken part in the festivities for more than five years. He also served in the U.S. Army.
“I love walking around and talking to the veterans,” Anderson said. “It gives the Scouts a chance to build relationships with these veterans that they will remember the rest of their lives.”
This was the fourth picnic for senior patrol leader Tyler Neal of Scout Troop 166.
“It’s all about being able to help out and give back to people who have done so much for us,” said Neal, 15. “This serves as a learning experience and teaches us the importance of community service.”
The event was made possible by community donations, which are accepted year-round.
Donations can be sent to Cary-Grove AMVETS, P.O. Box 741, Cary, IL 60013.