Annual picnic brings veterans together for outdoor activities

Nearly 40 years after serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War era, Roderick Newby is still learning to fully enjoy life. Days like Wednesday make it easy.

The Chicago man was one of roughly 400 hospitalized veterans to attend an annual picnic in Fox River Grove on Wednesday afternoon. Hosted for the past 27 years by the Cary-Grove AMVETS, the event invited vets to Lions Park for a cookout, games and other outdoor activities.

Newby, who receives outpatient care from the Drug Dependency Treatment Center at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago, finished serving as a hospital corpsman in the 1970s.

After initially finding a good post office job, he later developed a drug problem. He’s been part of the addiction program for 10 years.

“I’ve learned to really appreciate life and enjoy it,” said Newby, who added he is now clean and sober. “This is a good day – one of the best.”

Looking forward to later taking a boat ride down Fox River, he said attending such an event reminds him his time serving is well appreciated.

“It gave us something to look forward to,” Newby said, finishing off a brat blanketed with various toppings, “and it shows us – vets who had a hard time after we got out – it shows us that people care.”

In addition to Jesse Brown VA, patients attended from Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Chicago and Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.

Mary Beth Verbinski, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist from Hines, was there with some of the veteran guests. Her job entails running recreational programs for patients in order to help them enjoy activities despite physical or mental issues.

“It’s really important, being able to enjoy recreation,” Verbinski said. “That’s where a lot of memories come from.”

That’s why events like the annual picnic are so beneficial for veterans, she added.

Like Newby, Dean Cobb, a veteran of the Army and the Coast Guard, said the event was enjoyable mostly for the camaraderie it offers.

“I’ve been here before. This is my second time,” said Cobb, who receives care for a degenerative spinal cord condition at Hines. “I just like how everybody gets to be together.”

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