Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Eco-Touring” March 2009.
A Hidden Treasure; The Veterans Home of California
Ramblin’ On, by the Napa Nomad – Eco-excursions in the Napa Valley
By Arvis Northrop
One of my favorite places to walk and to get some good mileage is the grounds surrounding the Veteran’s Home of California in Yountville. It’s a quiet place without traffic and the usual urban obstacles. I make it an eco-friendly excursion by taking the #10 Vine bus to the corner of California Drive and Presidents Circle. A bonus stroll is the one mile loop down tree-lined California Drive and back up to Presidents Circle, the main street around the grounds.
On the main grounds, I’ve walked around the buildings, navigating through a network of paved pathways that connect grassy meadows and various sized gardens. It’s a clean and quiet neighborhood that allows for a peaceful, contemplative walking experience. Recently, I thought I should learn more about this neighborhood where I’ve so boldly made myself at home. After all, these are, in fact, the front and backyards of someone’s home that. I’ve wanted to share this special place and then learned that, although it is private property, the administration and the residents welcome the public for a variety of events as well as respectful use of the area for visiting and walking.
Founded in 1884, the Veterans Home of California will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year. There are 550 acres of property and the entire facility is self-contained, much like a small hometown. In addition to the residential accommodations there is a swimming pool, bowling alley, baseball park, arts and crafts studio, post office, hobby and mechanic workshops, dining room, multi-faith chapel, a hospital, and the wonderful Lincoln Theater. There are currently 950 residents who share the facilities and a large, wonderful staff that keeps this retirement village operating 24/7. It is a retirement home and care center for men and women who served our country in the armed forces. Many veterans look forward to this comfortable and supportive environment for their retirement years. It is a place of family and friends and, for many, the only family they have. Approximately 25% of the residents are without personal family members.
My favorite area of the property is the Veterans Home Cemetery. It’s a good workout to climb the hill behind the main buildings. Through the arched gate you may walk the paths among hundreds of small, white grave stones spread out over the rolling hillside with ancient oak trees framing the rows. Each time I’ve been here the scenery is green and golden, sun shining through the trees, illuminating the white stone markers. The markers pay tribute to our veterans from as far back as the Spanish American War. At the top of the hill is a tall, stone monument, and plaques dedicated to the unknown soldiers. This graveyard isn’t “spooky” or strange. The orderly layout represents the respect that is due these people I could never have known, but who lived out their lives in a manner that has supported mine. I am humbled in their presence.
I plan to visit the cemetery on the Saturday of our next Memorial Day weekend. On that Saturday, in preparation for the ceremonies and events of Memorial Day, volunteers from the Kiwanis, American Legion and the local community come out to the Veterans Home Cemetery to clean up the grounds. The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts work together “posting the colors” on each of the grave stones by placing an American flag in the holder on the side of each marker. Visiting the Veterans Home on Memorial Day provides the full meaning of the holiday and I know I will achieve a deeper appreciation of our veterans; beyond the standard “3-day weekend”.
There are many opportunities to contribute to this hidden treasure in Yountville. Many of the volunteers at the Veterans Home are current residents, enjoying the opportunity to support their neighbors and getting to know one another. Volunteers form work groups to assist various departments such as grounds keeping and property maintenance. There is always the pleasure of visiting the men and women who may be wheelchair-bound, getting them out and about in the fresh air, playing games or cards, listening to music, or listening to them; perhaps a heartfelt story of life experiences that anyone can learn from. The Veterans Home Volunteer Center welcomes all inquiries for volunteering. This could be a great school classroom project or for individuals who have some spare time to give. Contact Susan Heims, Volunteer Coordinator at 707-944-4930 for information and to volunteer. To visit the Veterans Home and learn more about the facility, contact Jody Price, Public Information Officer at 707-944-4541.
The Veterans Home of Yountville is also home to a very special new program called The Pathway Home. A grant of $5.6 million dollars was made by an anonymous donor to create the California Transition Center for Care of Combat Veterans. From the brochure: “The Pathway Home is a residential treatment program specifically created for and dedicated to serve our nation’s ‘New Warriors’ – those of any age who have served our nation’s Global War on Terrorism in areas of the world such as Afghanistan and Iraq.” Our returning soldiers will find a community to embrace and assist them in their transition; new technology to support the healing process and respect, guidance and support. We, as a nation and community of people, have learned from our mistakes in not taking care of those who put their lives on the line for us. The Pathway Home provides hope and respect for these people for what they have done for us. You can contact The Pathway Home at the Veterans Home at 707-948-3031. http://www.thepathwayhome.org.