A ‘Day of Love’

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE A tradition that started more than four decades ago at Minot Air Force Base will happen again this Thanksgiving Day when local senior citizens arrive there for dinner and socializing.

Called the Day of Love, the program primarily was started for seniors who are alone and have no family to spend the holiday with. It also gives airmen who are away from their families the opportunity to spend a day visiting with those of another generation.

Susan Wagers, special programs coordinator for the base’s 5th Force Support Squadron, said the event started specifically at Minot Air Force Base and, to her knowledge, the Minot base is believed to be the only base with such a program.

Wagers, in her first year as a planner for Day of Love, said she started making plans about two months ago. Wagers also is working with the Minot Commission on Aging, the local agency that takes reservations from seniors who plan to attend the base event.

About 170 seniors were signed up as of about midday Monday, but more were expected to be added this week, Wagers said. The list is limited to 240 seniors because of space limitations at the base’s Jimmy Doolittle Center, where the event is held.

Buses from the base, with volunteer drivers and volunteer escorts aboard, pick up the seniors Thursday morning at the Parker Senior Center in downtown Minot.

“We open the doors and the base does the rest,” said Jenny Hawkins, of the Minot Commission on Aging.

The buses of seniors leaves the center with a Minot Police Department escort. At the base, security forces escort the buses to the Doolittle Center.

Arriving at the Doolittle Center, the seniors are greeted by base leaders before sitting down to a Thanksgiving Day dinner with all the trimmings.

“There’s a lot of socializing,” Wagers said of the day.

Amy Filkins, Doolittle Center manager, said the menu includes turkey, ham, gravy, stuffing, corn, green beans and rolls. She said staff prepares about 80 to 90 pounds each of turkey and ham.

When the seniors arrive, she said muffins, coffee, water and iced tea are ready for them.

On Monday the Doolittle Center staff was starting to get the food ready for the Thanksgiving Day meal.

“We do apple, pumpkin and pecan pies for them,” Filkins added.

Filkins has been involved in the Day of Love at the Doolittle Center since 1999, Shelani Labajo, club operations specialist since 2002 and Lisa Mattair, cook since 2006.

Filkins said this year seniors from the Drake-Anamoose area also will be attending the day at the base. A bus driver with Souris Basin Transportation has volunteered to bring them there, she said.

Hawkins said 13 seniors from the Drake-Anamoose area have made reservations to go to the base Thursday.

Of the day the base holds for seniors, Hawkins said, “It’s great what they do.”

Many people senior citizen guests and volunteers have been participating in the Day of Love for many years, Wagers said. “I know my family used to volunteer when we first got here nearly 20 years ago,” she said. “At the time when we first got here we were looking for something to help with so we volunteered by helping to serve the meal and talk to the residents.”

Many airmen and civilian personnel at the base volunteer to help with the event. “The ideal number of volunteers that’s needed for this event is 70. I have 111 signed up an overwhelming response,” Wagers said. For safety reasons, she said volunteers must be 16 years old.

During the day the most senior male and female attending the event are crowned the king and queen.

“They’ll get a crown and a tiarra to wear,” Wagers said.

Various groups on base help with the program. The base Youth Center made the art centerpieces. First- and second-graders at both elementary schools on base Dakota and North Plains made cards and artwork for the seniors. New this year for the program will be angel ornaments made by Girl Scout troops on base that will be given to the seniors.

After the meal the group plays bingo, with prizes for winners. Door prizes also are awarded to guests.

When the afternoon activities are over, the seniors board the buses to head home.

Not only is the day special for the seniors, but for others attending.

“This is not only for those troops who are away from family and are not going home for the holidays, it is an opportunity for them to feel like they’re hanging out with family. I think they really enjoy it. I think they feel it is a pleasure to volunteer for it,” said Wagers.

Mattair said she likes to see the seniors come to the base, have dinner and to help them. There’s also a receiving line of staff members on the day of the event when seniors can thank them for the day.

“It’s just a really great feeling when you see how happy it makes them, and how grateful they are to be there and have us to volunteer to be there for them,” Labajo said.

Filkins said the Day of Love is a very fulfilling program.

“It’s for those people who don’t have family or someone to make them a meal because they are unable to or just (feel) why make it for myself,” she said.

Although planning the Day of Love is part of Wagers’ job, she said, “but I was thrilled to find out it was part of my job because I’ve known for a long time, mainly because of my father, that they’re the greatest generation. So for me it enables people that are younger than I am to understand what that really means, and by volunteering and being with them and hanging out with them, they now know what the greatest generation is as well.”