VA makes sure veterans enjoy holidays

Mary Wicoff/Commercial-NewsCheryl and Rick Rotramel look over a tree they had decorated for Festival of Trees and then donated to Valor House at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System.

DANVILLE — If you think setting up one Christmas tree is an accomplishment, try decorating a place as large as the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System.

Getting the decorations out of storage is a collaborative effort among several departments, all under the direction of the voluntary/recreation services department. The decorations include about 25 trees.

The goal is to make the holiday special for the veterans.

“We make sure the guys aren’t forgotten and they always have something exciting to do,” said David Zapata, recreation therapist. “It’s just a fun time of year.”

Several trees that once were part of the Festival of Trees fit in nicely with their red, white and blue theme.

Those trees were decorated and donated by Rick and Cheryl Rotramel. Rick, a veteran, is agency manager with Country Financial and Cheryl is director of perioperative services at Presence United Samaritans Medical Center. Both are set to retire in January.

The couple started donating the trees about 17 years ago to nursing homes, women’s shelter and other places. For the past five to six years, they’ve donated trees exclusively to the VA. Since 2001, all of the trees have had a red, white and blue theme.

“People say they’ve enjoyed it,” Cheryl said, referring to residents’ reaction.

In fact, she recalled the first tree donated to a nursing home was decorated in Illini colors. An elderly woman who never spoke approached the tree and started singing the Illini fight song.

This year, the couple’s most recent tree stands in the entryway at Valor Home, one of four Green House buildings with a home-like atmosphere for veterans. Valor, which can accommodate 10 veterans, is dedicated to short-term rehabilitation.

This 7-foot tree has a sign saying “Never forget the red, white and blue,” and it’s topped with a red Kentucky Derby hat. The hat had been part of CASA’s Night at the Races, where donors decorated hats.

Once the trees are donated, they stay, and can be repurposed, if necessary.

Other trees donated by the Rotramels shine in other parts of the VA, and two are in the Green Houses, Freedom and Liberty. One in the Social Activities Room is dedicated to the memory of veterans who have served.

Zapata said the bigger trees are stored with their decorations on, but others need to be trimmed each year by staff, volunteers and veterans. Wreaths and garlands are brought out, too.

Each ward is decorated, and visitors will notice that departments decorate the doors to their offices, as well.

Besides the decorations, there will be ward parties, gifts for veterans and numerous visits from groups.

“With continued support of community and VA staff, the holidays are always a special time of year for the veterans,” said Jennifer Sheehan-Wells, voluntary services specialist.

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