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Former Buchanan Elementary School now home of Quad City Veteran Outreach Center

Quad City Times - 5/19/2024

May 19—When veteran Dick Bries was asked to attend the grand opening of the Quad-City Veteran Outreach Center on Saturday in Davenport, he said he had no clue what to expect.

"I figured it would be a small building, maybe 30 by 30," said Bries, who is the Second District Commander of the American Legion Post 650 in Epworth, Iowa.

He then drove into the parking lot of the new center that is the old Buchanan Elementary School. The Outreach Center bought it from the Davenport School District.

"When I saw this big building, I was just flabbergasted," Bries said. "And then when I saw everything that's in here, I thought, 'How do you do it?' "

About 200 people attended the grand opening of the new Quad-City Veteran Outreach Center that is now located at 4515 N. Fairmount St.

Dignitaries at the event included Davenport Mayor Mike Matson, a retired Army Ranger, and U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who served in the Army for 24 years including as a nurse and doctor.

The center is the dream of Lola VanDeWalle who wanted to honor her father who served in World War II.

"We opened in 2016 helping 37 veterans," VanDeWalle said. "We have 3,489 as of today."

VanDeWalle said she went to the Blue Grass American Legion in 2016 because she wanted to do something in memory of her father, Emerson "Ted" Walters, who served on Guam in the Mariana Islands during World War II. He was twice wounded and was awarded the Purple Heart.

"I was thinking a fish fry or a ball game, and they said, 'We have veterans that need help,'" she said. By help, they meant housing, food, jobs, counseling and other kinds of aid.

"I went out and I found a building, and it's been growing and growing ever since," VanDeWalle said.

Everyone who works in the building is a veteran, she said.

"Our barbers are veterans, our volunteers are veterans, the people cleaning the floors are veterans," she said. But non-veterans who wish to volunteer are welcome, she added.

Bill Churchill, who is an executive board member for the Friends of Veterans Memorial Park in Davenport, said the center was "veterans helping veterans, and although Lola is not personally a veteran, she has the heart of a veteran based on her dad who served in World War II.

"What she's done here with the help of veterans and non-veterans with the support of the community, it's a landmark for other people in other areas to try and replicate, which is going to be very difficult," he said.

"It's not federally or state funded," Churchill added. "It's strictly based on people putting their heart and their money and their actions into a great cause. That's what's truly incredible."

Air Force veteran Tom Simmons said there was a good side to not having government money.

"We don't have to go through the government BS of filling out 400 pages of nonsense and then get turned down after waiting a week," Simmons said. "When we learn there's a need it gets taken care of."

Retired Navy Commander Bob Mantoya said the new center "is amazing."

"From what we had before, it's just truly amazing," Mantoya said "I thought maybe they'd have a little corner of the building. I didn't realize it was the whole shooting match."

Matson said that while the center was for all veterans from all over the Quad-Cities, he's honored to have it in Davenport.

The center offers numerous benefits for veterans, including a free monthly haircut, job placement, assistance with housing, VA benefits assistance counseling, a gift shop with products made by veterans, a book- and DVD-lending library and more. There is even a place for veterans to record their history.

"That's what I love about this city, this community, this area," Matson said. "They do everything they can to support the military veterans. This is a shining star, an example of what volunteers working together can accomplish."

Retired Army Col. Burl Randolph Jr. operates the REBOOT Combat Recovery at the center, which is not only for veterans as the program also takes local first responders such as police and firefighters.

Randolph said the need for veterans' services was larger than many people thought.

"There are 22,000 veterans in Scott County," he said. "It's a difficult transition to become a civilian after you've been doing something for so long, and it's not necessarily the regimen of the military, it's the camaraderie. It's the friends that you make and the excellent training that you get. It's hard to leave that."

One of the biggest assets of the center is the groceries it provides to veterans from its food pantry.

"You can't imagine the produce that goes through this building on a daily basis," volunteer Bill Iosbaker said. "It comes in the back door, and it goes right out through the front. Everything you can get at a grocery store you can get in this facility, and, if you're a veteran, it costs you nothing."

The center is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, the website is qcvetsoutreach.com.

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