This is the 10th anniversary of “Operation: Forever Grateful” (OFG) that was established in 2012 at the Delaware County Fair. The first year it was a fair event to honor and thank Delaware County veterans. There were 200 guests with 85 veterans at the first year of the event. OFG has continued to grow over the years. There is no charge for veterans, active duty military and their guests, or Gold Star Families to attend the dinner. Verified veteran support groups are also able to attend. Identification to verify veterans, active duty military and others must be provided to attend.
The event is held in the Pavilion Hill Tent on the Veterans Day of the fair, which is on the last Friday of the fair. The day has been renamed Military Services Day in honor of veterans and active duty military. OFG has been held in the Pavilion Hill Tent each year, except one year. The only year it was not at the fair was 2020, the year there were restrictions in Ohio at county fairs. In 2020, OFG still took place, with the limit to the state restrictions on events.
Marsha Jumper (past fair office manager) planted the seed that started OFG. After the first year, OFG was changed from a fair event to a sponsored event. Marsha left the fair after 2012 to take care of her father. Being a fair board member, I said that I would like to continue the event. The first couple of years I worked hard with others to get sponsors for OFG. The first few years there were sponsors for the event. After that, I approached the Delaware County commissioners to sponsor the event. They voted to sponsor OFG, and then the sponsorship approval was sent to the VSO to be added to their budget. The commissioners not only support OFG, they support many other veteran events and activities.
Since 2015, Delaware County Veterans Services has been the primary sponsor of OFG. Door prizes were donated and given out with drawings for preregistered veterans. Door prizes have been eliminated. In place of door prizes, donations if items are given that allow all veteran to receive them. There will be donations for veterans this year.
Joe DiGenova was the keynote speaker the first year. Joe was a Vietnam veteran who served with the Air Force in Vietnam and also served on Delaware City Council over two decades. Larry Cline became emcee the second year and remained until his passing. Larry was also a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy. Joe and Larry were also life members of our chapter, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095.
There has been a keynote speaker every year. Additionally, there are other speakers and entertainment. Keynote speaker this year is Ohio Department of Veterans Services Director Major Gen. (ret.) Deborah Ashenhurst. Prior to her retirement, she was commanding general of the Ohio Air National Guard. There will be minor military displays along with combat/battlefield crosses from three military eras (WWII-Korea; Vietnam; Desert Storm-Afghanistan) and of course, the “Empty Table” for those that lost their lives fighting for our country and therefore are not able to attend.
Quilters and Quilting Guilds, along with the Delaware County Fair Quilt Department, participate in the event. Quilts of Valor were made and donated by individual quilters and first presented to Purple Heart recipients, then other valor medal recipients; other veterans also received quilts. These same quilters also made flag quilts (small wall hanging), mug rugs, cup holders, and other small wall hangings that were also presented. Through the years, the number of flag quilts made increased to a level that all veterans in attendance received one. Quilts of Valor are not longer designated, as most, if not all, Valor Medal recipients attending OFG have received quilts. The Serendipity Quilting Guild in Delaware County along with other quilters make quilts and donate them for the veterans at the dinner. Names of preregistered veterans are drawn at the dinner for them to receive a quilt. Only those actually attending the dinner will receive a quilt if their name is drawn.
Dinner and entertainment for veterans who may have up to five guests is Friday, Sept. 23. Gate to Pavilion Hill opens around 5:30 p.m.; dinner is served about 6:30 p.m. Golf cart shuttles are provided to help escort up the hill to the tent. They are also available at the end of the dinner to take people back down. People are encouraged to wait for a shuttle to be taken down.
The Buckeye Valley Alumni Band will play many patriotic songs, along with the military branch anthems. Our Honor Guard posts the colors (flags), Mary Fran Cassidy leads the National Anthem (everyone is encouraged to sing along), our chaplain leads the Pledge of Allegiance, and then our Honor Guard fires a three-shot rifle volley.
Forms are available online at delawarecountyfair.com, in the Fair Office at 236 Pennsylvania Ave., Delaware County Fair website, and Delaware County Veterans Services Office (VSO) located at 91 N. Sandusky St., Delaware. You may also email [email protected] to request a form and we will email you a PDF version. Forms will be available during the fair in the fair office and Coliseum, where veteran groups, along with the VSO, have booths that are staffed to support veterans and provide information.
All Occasions has catered OFG every year since its inception. Volunteers help serve veterans that have difficulty going through the buffet lines. 4-H members help at the buffet tables along with helping deliver some meals. Many elected officials, along with their staffs, volunteer to help serve. They also stay around to help clean up. These volunteers show that they truly support veterans and the community.
I would like to list those that helped, but am sure I would miss someone so will list areas: Delaware County Veterans Services commissioners, Delaware County commissioners, Delaware Municipal Court judges and their staff, Common Pleas Court judges and staff, prosecutor and staff, both clerk of courts and staff, mayor, and Delaware City Council members. I would invite all those that volunteered in the past to volunteer this year. If others wish to help at the dinner, contact the VSO, the fair office, or visit us in the Coliseum during the fair.