Serving up gratitude: Hampton Elks invite veterans to a special meal
By Elena Gaona
Daily Press

November 27 2002

HAMPTON -- "Turkey!" shouted a volunteer as his tray of sliced meat was depleted. Someone promptly placed a fresh tray in front of him, and the scooping continued.

More than 200 senior citizens and veterans were served a Thanksgiving meal at the Hampton Elks Lodge on Tuesday, the 34th year the lodge served the meal, said lodge member Clyde Laudermilk, who coordinated the event.

The club paid for the meal with funds raised by bingo games each Monday and Wednesday at the lodge, said Tim Squyars, president of the lodge.

The lodge invited members of the Hampton Senior Center and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Hampton.

"Lord knows I've seen it all," said 85-year-old Grace Ruffin, the oldest veteran there, according to others in attendance. "But I think seeing the Lord is what I'm grateful for."

Ruffin was one of the first women who served in the Army, part of the Women's Auxiliary Corps in the 1940s. She traveled all over the world, she said, but found happiness at home in Suffolk with her family.

Other seniors said they are grateful for everything from being alive to owning a car that still runs.

"It's a blessing just to be here to see it all," said 52-year-old veteran John Wilson, who served in the Marine Corps from 1967 to 1974.

He was injured by shrapnel in Vietnam in 1969, an injury that still haunts him today and had him in the veterans hospital for testing this week. Wilson swallowed turkey slowly through throat muscles that twitch from the old injury, but he savored each bite, he said.

"This is a time to give thanks to our veterans," said lodge member Bill Falls, while he spooned mounds of steaming roasted garlic mashed potatoes onto foam plates. "We can't forget these people, they're the ones who are still here."

Since last week, 30 lodge volunteers and a head chef have been shopping and preparing food. They served

170 pounds of turkey breasts, 65 pounds of mashed potatoes, 40 pounds of dressing, six gallons of gravy, 25 pounds of green peas, 24 pounds of cranberry sauce and 260 dinner rolls.

As the guests ate, they listened to poems, jokes and words of thanks from other seniors and from Hampton Mayor Mamie Locke and City Council members Turner Spencer and Ross Kearney. A fashion show was also organized.

"Roland is wearing a casual suit with gray Stacy Adam shoes and a silver chain," said the announcer as 72-year-old Roland Johnson strutted around the dining room to cheers and applause.

Meanwhile, women from a lodge auxiliary group sliced dozens of pumpkin pies into nearly 300 pieces.

For many, the meal is the only celebration of the holiday they will get, lodge members said.

Bob Smith, who is 68, has lived at the hospital for 10 months. He has no family in the area, and a spinal cord injury keeps the Navy veteran from traveling too much. Tuesday's meal gave him a chance to go outdoors in his wheelchair, he said, and he is thankful for the outing.

"They gave us so much," said Jeanne Heyman, president of the Ladies of the Elks. "They're in that hospital all the time, that just giving them a real meal is like giving them a feeling of home."

Elena Gaona can be reached at 247-7420 or by e-mail at
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