“Operation: Forever Grateful” (OFG) was established in 2012 at the Delaware County Fair. The first year, it was a fair sponsored event to honor and thank Delaware County veterans. There were 200 guests with 85 veterans.
OFG has continued to grow over the years. In 2019, there were a little over 600 in attendance, with over half being veterans. I was told by the director of Ohio Department of Veterans Services that only one or two counties have veteran events of this scale.
The event was held in the Pavilion Tent on the last Friday of the fair. OFG has been held in the Pavilion Tent each year on the last Friday of the fair. Veteran’s day for the fair is on the last Friday of fair, and it has been renamed Military Services Day in honor of veterans and active duty military.
Marsha Jumper (past fair office manager) planted the seed that started OFG. Joe DiGenova was the keynote speaker the first year. Joe was a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force 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.
There has been a keynote speaker every year. Additionally, there are other speakers and entertainment. The keynote speaker last year was Ohio Department of Veterans Services Director Major Gen. (ret.) Deborah Ashenhurst. Additional speakers were Judge Marianne Hemmeter and County Recorder Melissa Jordan.
Judge Hemmeter spoke about the Veterans Treatment Court and how it helps veterans. Jordan spoke about veteran ID cards and the benefit of filing veterans DD-214 with the Recorder’s Office. This will be scaled down for this year’s event. The dinner will be the primary focus this year. There will be minor military displays along with combat/battlefield crosses from three military eras, and of course, the “Empty Table” for those that lost their lives fighting for our country and therefore are not able to attend.
The first few years there were sponsors for the event. 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 are given that allow all veterans to receive them. There will be donations for veterans this year.
Quilters and Quilting Guilds, along with the Delaware County Fair Quilt Department, have all participated 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 will not be available this year. The Serendipity Quilting Guild in Delaware County along with other quilters has made really nice small wall hanging quilts for this year’s dinner.
Due to the current pandemic restrictions in Ohio, OFG has been moved from the fair this year. The event will be held at All Occasions Catering the Friday before the fair. All Occasions maintains full compliance with state mandates for catered events. All Occasions has catered OFG every year since its inception. The plan and hope is to have OFG return to the fair in 2021.
The anticipation is to hold the event in the new AG Center when returning to the fair. That will have the event close to the military displays, which will also return next year.
Dinner and entertainment for veterans and a guest is Friday, Sept. 18. Doors open at 4:30 p.m., and dinner is served at 5:30 p.m. There is no charge for veterans and one guest or Gold Star Families that register in advance. Additional reservations are available for $10 each, with reservations due by Sept. 4. The dinner will take place at All Occasions Catering, 6989 Waldo-Delaware Road, Waldo. The general public may purchase reservations in advance for $10 to attend.
There will not be buffet lines as in past OFG dinners. Food will be plates and served individually to each attendee. This will actually make it easier and safer for everyone involved. I would encourage veterans to attend and help keep OFG going. We will practice social distancing and take all steps necessary to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Forms are available at local businesses, the Delaware County Fair Office at 236 Pennsylvania Ave., Delaware County Commissioners Office, and the Delaware County Veterans Services Office located at 149 N. Sandusky St. in Delaware. Forms can also be downloaded online at delawarecountyfair.com or through the county’s website. You may also email DCVVA1095@gmail.com to request a form, and we will email you a PDF version.
In the past, volunteers helped serve veterans that had difficulty going through the buffet lines. 4-H members helped at the buffet tables along with helping deliver some meals. Last year, due to the large attendance, many elected officials, along with their staffs, volunteered to help serve. They also stayed 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 I’m sure I would miss someone, so I will list areas: Delaware County Veterans Services commissioners, Delaware County commissioners, Delaware Municipal Court judges and their staff, Common Pleas Court judges and staff, county prosecutor and staff, both Clerk of Courts and staff, Delaware mayor and Delaware City Council members.
I would invite all those that volunteered last year to attend this year. A lot of volunteers may not be needed, but I would like you to attend so we can thank you for your support.
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.