Utah State Veterans Nursing Home – Salt Lake City, Utah
State Coordinator: Jason “Fat Guy” Stephenson
The business day for local shop owners and ranchers in Elko NV, starts at the Coffee Mug Restaurant, a block off the main drag; and so, it starts for the NVAR, too. We filled both sides of two long tables and consumed gallons of coffee, dozens of eggs, a ton of hashbrowns, ten loaves of bread, and they had peanut butter for the toast! (Well, the coffee and peanut butter are pretty accurate!)
On such a beautiful morning we had our riders meeting outside in warm sunshine.
Jerry and Patrick had little to say. Our routine is routine to most riders, and some quick reminders quickly ended their output of important stuff.
Dan read the tribute;
Ian P. McLaughlin, of Newport News VA, joined the Army at 29 years old. In 2019, he bid his family a farewell for duty in Afghanistan. No doubt, he would miss them every day.
Miguel A. Villalon, at 21 years old, was in the prime of his life. He left his parents and two brothers in Joliet IL to join the Army in 2018.
A sense of duty to country, and a shuffle of paperwork, brought these two men together for their first tour of duty at the Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. Tragically, it was their final deployment; their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
To Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin, his wife and four children, and to Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon, his parents and two brothers, we hold an eternal debt of responsibility and gratitude.
Dean, our fantastic weather guy, kept up with the good news: sunshine and warm temperatures.
Wayne read The Farmers Prayer: The farmer said grace – Lord, I hate buttermilk, I hate lard, and I don’t care much for white flower. But mix them up together, and he loved the biscuits. Whatever you’re experiencing in life may just be an ingredient for something wonderful. Stick with it and keep the faith.
From out of nowhere, or the middle of nowhere, Trevor showed up in Elko NV, from IN. Great to see him again, and welcome him to Road Guard duty.
And riders of the NVAR rolled. Snow capped the mountains, and clouds were brilliant in a deep blue sky, with desert air that was barely crisp. Sage and prairie grasses were about as green as they will be for the year. The highway lanes stretched before us like rails, and somewhere out there was the middle of nowhere!
110 miles down the road, the Great Salt Lake Desert laid out like the barren expanse it is. The gambling mecca of Wendover sits on the Nevada side, where we met up with Jason, “Fat Guy” and about 40 Utah Riders. His social club has been an advocate for veterans and supporters of the NVAR for many years, and it’s always a grand reunion in the mecca parking lot. After a brief meeting of reminders we hear every year, we rolled onto the expanse.
It was a pleasant day on the desert; unlike many rides with gale force winds that knocked us around like pinballs. Might have been about 70 bikes, but to passing drivers it was like miles of bikes.
On the Utah side of the expanse, we gassed up and met our escort; at least 30 of Utah’s finest motor cops; Harleys and other nice-looking bikes. Jason made a final briefing, and we were off. We hit the highway with the motor cops in command. It’s amazing to watch those guys work: the commander at the front of their formation calls over the radio for the number of cops he needs to block on-ramps, the cops peel from their formation to do so, and when we’ve cleared that ramp, they blast past us at a hundred miles per hour to retake their place in their formation to do so again, on command. Not a car or truck got close to our formation as we rolled steady through interchanges and the main drag through east Salt Lake City, to the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home.
Residents of the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home stared in wonder and anticipation as we packed the parking lot with motorcycles. This facility opened in 1998 as a skilled nursing facility that focused on residents’ quality of life. It has 81 beds, 39 double occupancy rooms, 3 private rooms, two wings upstairs, and a memory care downstairs, and often strange critters hopping or crawling around; like the kangaroo and Galapagos sized turtle in years past.
As we circled the lot to park, I spotted a friend from years past, and was quick to drop my leathers and meet her. Noma was thrilled to be remembered, and quick to tell me she was 102 years old now; and still witty. She was a recruiter in WWII and a liaison for placement of other women in the Army. Noma’s friend, Marlyn was the wife of an army veterans, now passed, but had twin sons, both Lt. Cols. As twins, they messed with a lot of people in their younger days, including their mother.
We weren’t allowed inside, but the staff brought many residents outside. The entry and tents provided a comfort of shade. Motoring around was the biggest trouble maker in the home, so Robert claimed for himself. He was a Navy photographer who loved his job. He loved riding motorcycles, too! Somebody warned him about the maintenance. He dated his ancestors to around 1200 in of old Harleys, so he stuck with the Honda 750’s, and he had a few in his younger days.
Another interesting fella was Russell Cahoon, with a strong interest in genealogy. He followed his ancestry back to about 1200 in the United Kingdom. Hmmm! Do you remember Kokiko from yesterday in Reno? Her ancestry reached back to 1344 in Britain. Maybe they knew each other, maybe one worked for the other, maybe they did battle together, maybe they battled each other!
Due to Covid, lunch on the patio was out, and a very long line moved slowly to a barbeque vendor brought in for the visit. Riders said it was excellent, and ice cream the staff passed out was a cool treat for residents and riders, too.
This is always a great visit, and I hope to meet Noma at 103.
The heat of the parking lot was deceiving, and clouds over the mountains ahead of us looked a bit threatening. Unlike many with tee shirts on, I put on my leathers, and was still chilled at elevation with a bit of rain. Our escort broke off at the top of the pass and returned to whatever city they served. A great bunch of cops we’re grateful to.
Another escort led us into Evanston WY. First on the agenda was a Wreath Laying Ceremony, Led by Commander, and four riders. A high school choir then sang the National Anthem. Great to have their involvement.
Around the corner from the memorial, VFW Post 4280 hosted social hour and yet, another feast of roast beef and potatoes, with greens and a salad.
It was another fulfilling day with joy shared at the Utah Nursing Home, and the reunions with the Utah Riders, and the fine folks at the VFW. We look forward to doing it all again, but first, and next, is a visit to the Cheyenne WY VAMC, tomorrow.
Thank You & Never Forget – Mike (Track) Rinowski