Take A Vet To Dinner

By John Swartz

Once a year for the past 15, Canadian veterans in the Orillia area have been honoured at a dinner at the Mariposa Inn. It started with a trio of men.

“I think it was Dick that came up with the idea,” said Ralph Cipolla, referring to Dr. Dick Johnston. Cipolla has been a volunteer with the organizing team since inception. The current chair of the committee, Rick Purcell, has also been on board for most of the annual events since the beginning.

“It was started by two doctors in the hospital and a veteran, Lloyd Dennis, Andy Monk and Dick Johnston,” said Purcell. .

“Andy Monk, who passed away, had a lot to do with it. He did all the brochures and everything else, He was a great guy,” said Cipolla.

Purcell only recently became formally involved in the committee.

“I coordinated the Air Cadets that go and help open the doors, take their coats off,” for most of the years Purcell said.

“They were debating packing it in because everybody’s getting old and didn’t think they could run the program. I heard that and said, “well, the legion doesn’t want to run it, but we’ll certainly help you. Army/Navy said the same thing; we don’t want to run it, but we’ll help you.”

Rick Purcell

“Everybody was quitting – so they said. I said I’ve got somebody that will do the spread sheets – well I’m not quitting. I’ve got somebody that’s going to do the calling – well, I’m not quitting – nobody’s quitting!”

“This is the first year I’m on the committee. Nobody wanted to be the chairman so I said, “well, I’m not going to do all the work, but I’ll be the chairman.” Everybody started saying, I’ll do what I did (committee jobs), so I’m not doing very much other than making sure everybody is doing what they say they’re doing.”

The legion and the Army Navy AirForce Club have no formal involvement with the organizing committee, but membership helps where they can acting as chaufers where needed.

The concept is simple, buy a ticket ($35) for yourself and one for a veteran .

“That’s’ what we hope because then most of the people are paid for, daughters and sons and things like that, or even there’s a guy in the legion that brings one of his vet friends, there’s a guy in the Army/Navy that brings his vet friend and he just writes a cheque for $70 and away he goes. Some people write a cheque for $100 and we keep the change,” said Purcell. Bot n oveteran is turned away because of lack of funds, whether the vet is is attending solo, or invited by someone who can’t afford both tickets.

“Ralph’s pretty good and couple of the other people are pretty good getting donations from the people in town, they can pay for probably 15 to 20 vets that can’t afford to pay if they happen to be by themselves,’ said Purcell.

“So far we’ve never ever been short of money for a sponsor for the vet’s dinner. People are so good. Guys like John Mayo, Ralph Lauer, Town’s jewellery, ourselves (Cipolla’s business), lots of people,” said Cipolla.

As the years pass there are fewer vets to take to dinner.

“We started out with about 130, 140 vets, and then I think we’re down to around 60/65,“ said Cipolla.

“We had a veteran’s dinner about two weeks ago and I’ll bet you we had 40 legion members. Some of them could have been peacekeepers, they may not have all been World War II,” said Purcell.

“The younger vets, we’re not really getting into yet. They’re not wound up about the legion or dinners and things like that. We get quite a few peacekeepers, Latvia, Bosnia, a lot of them and then World War II veterans. All the World War I ones are dead in Orillia. There’s some come very close to pushing 100.”

The concept is spreading. There are now Take A Vet To Dinner events in Ottawa and Cornwall.

Ralph Cipolla
Ralph Cipolla

“The one in Ottawa is a relative of Charles Kelly, his son (Tobin) took the idea from here. They started very slow but they eventually built it and now they are close to 200,” said Cipolla.

There is a side objective to the event.

“One of the ideas was to make sure the vets don’t die and are forgotten. We wanted to make sure they’re remembered,” said Cipolla. “The biggest factor was to try and get young people at schools to be able to know that the veterans were our heroes, the people we need to look up to because they really gave us the freedom we have today.”

This year a presentation by students is part of the dinner agenda and the 99 Lynx Air Cadets Squadron have been yearly participants. There’s even a continuing educational benefit.

“We sponsor a scholarship; one of the kids that’s going to university that’s going to the army as an engineer or whatever it is, w give them money, $500, I think one year we did $1000, it depends on what funds we have,” said Cipolla.

Tickets can be bought, or donations made, by calling 705-325-6987. The dinner is Oct. 26 starting at 5:30 p.m.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, Main Supplied)


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