The Baldomero Lopez State Veterans’ Nursing Home drew hundreds to a celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of the center’s opening in Land O’ Lakes.
The April 30 ceremony was held outside the facility, which has been home to veterans and has been a place where many community organizations have been involved for two decades.
Marlies Sarrett, the facility administrator, opened the program with a warm welcome to all attendees, followed by words from Charlie Reese, the master of ceremony.
Members of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) from Hillsborough High School added to the patriotic atmosphere.
They performed the ‘presentation of colors’ in precision, marching before the crowd, with both the U.S. and Florida flags held high.
Those who were able, stood placing their right hand over their heart. Veterans who remained seated respectfully saluted the waving flags.
Lt. Col. Demetrius Green, the JROTC instructor, then took to the stage to address the audience – especially former servicemen.
“This facility was built to honor those who have served and sacrificed in defense of our nation and freedom around the world – that is you,” Green said. “You are the epitome of what we want our nation to be.”
The nursing home’s namesake, Baldomero Lopez, was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after sacrificing himself over a live grenade to spare the lives of his comrades during the Korean War.
The nursing home opened during the late 1990s, when Florida experienced a great demand for veterans’ homes.
“We were the second nursing home built from Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” Sarrett explained.
Within the past two decades, six VA nursing homes have been established in the state, with two more on the way, the administrator added.
Al Carter, chief of staff for the VA’s Florida department, was present for the day’s ceremony and acknowledged the facility’s longtime staff members.
Among those singled out were Jackie Gorgen of the dietary department who has served since the building’s opening and Dr. Nancy Miranda, a pharmacist.
As each approached the stage, they were met with cheers and applause.
A moment of laughter erupted when maintenance man John Mitchell left the stage shouting “Go veterans!”
Resident Walter Kochaniec expressed appreciation for the care that he receives at the nursing home.
“I like the way the people treat you,” the Vietnam veteran stated.
Olga, his wife of over 30 years, was also present at the ceremony and noted the cleanliness of the facility.
She had visited 10 nursing homes before settling on Baldomero for her husband.
After three years there, the 72-year-old said he’s made friends. He also boasted about his winning streak in bingo – one of his favorite games.
Chaplain Ruth Ann Nylen offered the opening and closing prayers at the ceremony.
Having served at Baldomero for five years, she, too, could attest to the warm service the home provides.
“This is a very highly rated place,” the chaplain said. “The staff here are so committed to the veterans. It’s not just a job for them.”
After the service, residents and guests were treated with hamburgers and hot dogs off the grill, as well as coleslaw and baked beans.
Nylen and other staff walked around to greet veterans and their family members.
Outside the dining hall, the chaplain spotted John Grenier, a Korean War veteran.
Around the home, he’s known as a “very friendly, happy guy,” Nylen said.
As she approached, Grenier noticed the chaplain’s familiar face as he regularly attends her Monday morning Bible studies.
It is a testament of the relationships that have been built within the walls of the 20-year-old facility.
“It’s a treasure that most people don’t even realize is located in our community,” Sarrett mentioned.
But, the administrator and her staff are committed to helping other veterans discover what the facility has to offer.
Published May 08, 2019