EFFINGHAM — Organizers of “Salute to Veterans” developed a way to not only say “thank you” to veterans but to show them they are not forgotten.
The 10-hour event Saturday featured food, drinks, music, socializing and displays on the grounds of the Effingham Performance Center.
“It is local community members who create retreats for veterans and their families,” said President Luke Althoff of Freedom 68, which hosted the event. Althoff also served in the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2008, both active and reserve duties.
Volunteers with the nonprofit organization hold fundraisers and obtain sponsors to pay for events like the one Saturday.
Althoff said the idea originated with founder and Vice President Mike Brookshier, who had the goal to get veterans and civilians together and to thank those veterans for their service.
“We developed this to give back to the community,” said Brookshier.
“There is July 4 and Memorial Day, but this is something we want to do on a random day, during the random part of the year, just to show nobody is forgotten,” Brookshier told the crowd gathered at the event. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Veteran Christina Ordner, of Sigel, attended the event.
“Small towns have this amazing ability to go bigger and better,” said Ordner. “The volunteers who put this together in honor of veterans are just amazing. You don’t get this in a big city. This is small-town appreciation and this is what America is all about.”
Ordner said she enjoyed her time in the U.S. Air Force, where she served for four years.
“It was amazing,” said Ordner, 37. “In all situations in life, it is about your perspective and about who you surround yourself with. I was blessed to be surrounded by inspirational, motivational, amazing women and men in the Air Force.”
Ordner worked in network communication and classified messaging. She served at McChord Air Force Base in Washington, Aludeid Air Force Base in Qatar and also in England.
Ordner said everyone she worked with always inspired her “to be the best Airman” she could be. Now she’s a Realtor and associate broker with Century 21 Realty Concepts.
Eighty-five-year-old veteran John Schimmelpfenning came out to celebrate with other veterans and civilians. He had served in the U.S. Army in Alaska from 1954 to 1956. He was a battery clerk in the orderly room.
“It was beautiful country,” said Schimmelpfenning. “It was God’s country no doubt about it. I’ve been back to visit a couple of times and it is fast growing a very progressive area — and very expensive.”
Veteran Arthur Pike, 84, of Effingham, served in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958 and was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, during active duty. He also served two more years in active reserves and two years inactive reserves. That’s how enlisting was done during that period, he said.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” said Pike. “I was in during peace time and I worked in supply. The food was always good, too.”
Pike said if he could do it all over again, he’d considered making the military his career.
George Tindle, 70, of Mt. Vernon, did make the military his career.
He was in the U.S. Air Force from 1968 to 1991, which, he said, adds up to 23 years, 3 months, 23 days, 8 hours and 42 minutes. He served in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Germany, Honduras, Nicaragua and Greenland. He retired as a First Sergeant and Law Enforcement Superintendent.
Tindle came to the event with his long-time friend, Jerome Tobin, of Mt. Vernon, who served four years in the U.S. Air Force in the Titan II Missile Program.
“If I could go back, I’d go back now,” said Tindle. “It was an honor to serve my country. I went in during a time when the draft was still around and Vietnam was going on and I enlisted in California.”
Tindle received his draft notice during his second week of basic training.
Tindle comes from an active military family. He was sworn in by his older brother, Danny Tindle, who also retired from the U.S. Air Force. Another brother, Mike Tindle, served 16 years in the U.S. Air Force and six in the U.S. Army before retiring.
Major Justin Ruholl took some time while home on leave to attend the event Saturday. The Dieterich native is serving with the U.S. Army in South Korea.
Ruholl said events like the one in Effingham mean a lot to veterans. He said a simple acknowledgement like a nod even means something to him.
“I always tell people to be sure to thank the old dogs,” said the 34-year-old. “Us young guys have it a lot better than the old guys. They chewed some harder dirt than we have. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve faced a lot of stuff, but not like what they did.”
Freedom 68 got its name from the location of the first event the organization held at Kinmundy’s American Obstacle, which is on 68 acres of land. The event was held there for two years, in 2016 and 2017, and in 2018, it moved to the grounds of Legacy Harley-Davidson, said Althoff.
The organizers said they want this event to grow and reach more veterans.
“We are taking a tally this year to see how far we are reaching and who we are reaching,” said Brookshier. “We’ve got a good team working out here. Some are coming and going, and the crowd is getting thicker.”