Virginia Gunter has cared for veterans at her residence near Vilonia for 17 years.
She opened Gunter's Veterans Home in February 1986, after an allergy problem rendered her unable to continue working as a beautician. The licensed assisted-living facility is now home to 12 veterans. The residents are referred from social service at the VA hospitals.
"Some come when they are pretty ill, and then they get better and go home," Gunter said. "Sometimes they are very depressed and can't seem to get over it. Being in a small group helps, because you can work with them individually."
Services provided include three meals a day, laundry and housekeeping, supervision of medications, transportation and various types of entertainment.
"I don't want them to be bored," Gunter said. "They need to be out and moving around and doing things."
Many of the residents have been in the hospital and are depressed, she said. Most are mentally disabled, although none are physically handicapped, she said. Gunter believes getting the veterans out and about helps them get better.
The Vilonia Senior Citizen Center is a daily destination for most of the residents. Gunter took a group to the Faulkner County Fair this year. Sometimes she takes them out to eat. Once or twice a year, she takes them on vacation to places like the Grand Canyon, Mexico, Disneyland and Washington, D.C. The most recent was a trip to Panama City, Fla.
"They loved that. They look forward to their vacation," Gunter said.
Some of the veterans have families in locations around the state, but none are living in the immediate area. Because of this, Gunter said, chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans do different things to honor the veterans.
The American Legion in Bradford adopted the veterans at the home.
"They give them birthday cakes, keep up with their birthdays and holidays and send them cards and Christmas gifts. They come here and do singing or invite them to their (facilities) for dinners and parties," Gunter said.
The DAV in Conway donated $1,000 to the home to have a pavilion built. It is under construction now, next to a pond on the property.
Local groups contribute their time and resources as well. Gunter said children from First Baptist Church of Vilonia occasionally come and present plays. During the holidays they sing and bring gifts for the veterans. On Veterans Day, Vilonia Junior High School always holds a special program and reception for local veterans.
In addition to entertainment and outreach from the community, there are other ways of trying to help the veterans get better. Social workers visit the home about twice a week when residents first leave the hospital. Sometimes, Gunter said, they just need a little encouragement - perhaps to start eating regularly or to attend the senior center.
Also at the home are a deck and pool, a fishing pond and animals. Gunter said the residents enjoy feeding the dogs, cats, chickens and rabbits.
"They love animals," she said.
The home is licensed by the state and has to meet all the requirements of the VA hospitals. They have yearly inspections and fire inspections. They must keep records on each individual and their health care. A dietitian comes regularly, and the residents are weighed once a month.
Shelton Wilson Jr. said of the home, "It's quiet. Peaceful." He has lived there for a year. Originally from Cabot, he served in the Army from 1966 to 1996. He attends the Vilonia senior center every day.
Larry Whybrew, formerly of Newport, has lived at the home for three years. He served in the Army infantry from 1966 to 1968. In 1970 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a VA hospital. He said life at the veterans' home is fine, but he misses his real home.
Fred LaSalle has been at Gunter's for 14 years. He served three years in the Navy during World War II. His wife, who lives in Malvern, visits him every two weeks, he said.
Charles Kies said life at the home is "dandy." He was in the Navy in Vietnam. He has lived at Gunter's since 1989.
Gunter said she is retiring, partly for health reasons. Her 30-year-old son, Carrol, and his wife, Mica, are taking charge of the facility, and Gunter is training and helping them.
Anyone who wants to present programs for the veterans' entertainment or just come and visit with them is welcome, Gunter said.
(Staff writer Rachel Parker may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277.)
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