LAKE ANDES -- A reunion over the weekend in Lake Andes made sure to show appreciation for family military members.
The Kolecka and Wentland families surprised their fellow service men and women relatives at their family reunion held in the 4-H building in Lake Andes with the presentation of quilts of valor.
Nine serving relatives were honored between the families.
Most family members had no idea there was a planned presentation for all their loved ones, and the emotions that followed showed heavily how much this meant to each veteran.
“I never thought I would ever receive something so special like this in front of my loved ones, so many people don’t realize the sacrifice service men and women take to keep this country free,” said Larry Wentland, who served in the U.S. Air Force (1963-1966) during the Vietnam War.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation was started in 2003 by Catherine Roberts from Seaford, Delaware. Roberts used her son Nathanael’s year-long deployment to Iraq as her inspiration.
The idea was to welcome back returning troops with love and gratitude by providing a quilt that symbolized that they were not forgotten, and that their sacrifice will forever be appreciated.
Betty Gall, a sister and niece to the recipients, said since the start of the foundation that there has been over 222,000 quilts given to service men and women across the country.
These quilts are also made specifically to each receiving member and can take a long period of time to create.
“I started somewhere around last November with these quilts and wanted to make sure that they all contained red, white, and blue specifically for my family,” said Gall.
Larry Wentland lives with his family in Nampa, Idaho. He was not the only member to describe such high emotions in accepting their honor in front of their family.
“I really love this so much that I can not even put it into words right now,” said Tom Kolecka, of Avon, serving in the National Guard (1970-1993) with the 854th engineers unit from Wagner.
“I saw my sister posting pictures of these kinds of quilts on Facebook, but never imagined receiving one myself,” he said.
He also explained that people tend to forget the sacrifice that service men and women make, but said that this truly makes them feel appreciated and thankful for this honor.
Harold Wentland, U.S. Marines (1955-1958), also described the warmth this brought to his heart.
“This truly feels so amazing that I am at a loss for words,” said Harold.
Harold described that he was very taken by surprise. He actually had left the reunion earlier and was told by his wife that he absolutely had to come back for a reason she would not tell him over the phone.
Harold was born and raised in the Lake Andes area, but now resides in Hibbing, Minnesota.
Other members who served for the Kolecka and Wentland families that were honored included: Tom Kolecka (National Guard), Alvin Wentland (Army), Robert Wentland (Army/Air Force), Richard Kolecka (Army), Jean Kolecka (Navy/National Guard), Terry Rasmussen (Army), and Paul Wentland (Army).
Gall was at the helm for pioneering this presentation to the family.
“I did not hear about Quilts of Valor until I moved to South Carolina, where I joined a quilt club that had the Quilts of Valor. It really attracted my attention, so I got involved,” said Gall.
She said awarding veterans with the quilts brings her great joy.
“The fact that two of my uncles started crying with this presentation just really brings this all into such a heart-warming experience. I honestly could have cried right along with them,” said Gall.
Gall mentioned she has other volunteers help along with the process, and that she has handed out approximately 50 quilts of her own during her time working with the foundation.
Gall said the quilts are usually made in a twin size of 65 by 72 inches and can cost up to $250 a quilt.
Gall mentioned one personal account of a man with dementia receiving his quilt and being so grateful that he never took it off.
“It was his comfort,” said Gall.
Donations are always needed to continue this valiant effort, so if you would like to donate to the Quilts of Valor Foundation you can visit www.QOVF.org/donate.