Veterans Services Director Covers Multiple Topics

By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer

Copyright Clare County Cleaver

HARRISON – Renee Haley, director of Veterans Services for Clare County, brought Renee Haleysome positive news to the Clare County Board of Commissioners at the Board’s Feb. 21 meeting. In Haley’s hands was a photo of what will be the third and latest addition to the statuary at Veterans Freedom Park in Harrison.

One of the motions before the Board that day was to “allow the Veterans Affairs Department to purchase a Korean War Statue for the Veterans Freedom Park in the amount of $30,800 to be paid from proceeds raised through the Snowball Dance.”

The sculpture studio photo copy Haley brought shows the torso of a partially completed soldier clad in a poncho and carrying a rifle as he moves cautiously across the misty landscape during the Korean War. When completed, the piece will be replicate one of the soldiers portrayed in the Korean War Monument in Washington, D.C.

“It speaks volumes to the era that was served,” Haley said. “And the understatement of what they went through during that time. You always hear about Vietnam, you always hear about World War II, but our Korean War veterans really get left out a lot.”

She said delivery of that statue is expected sometime this summer, with a goal of having it installed in the park prior to Veterans Day.

Haley reiterated that none of the monies being spent on the park’s statues come from county funds, but rather are all garnered through fundraisers. She told the Board that great credit for all the statues at the park goes to the tireless dedication of Maye Tessner-Rood and the legions of volunteers who have made the fundraising Snowball dinner-dance possible for the past three years.

“They’re coming directly from Maye Tessner-Rood and her group who put on our Snowball for us every year,” Haley said.  Tessner-Rood also was in attendance, and she told the Board that this year’s Snowball total stood at $25,000.

“That’s one event, which is phenomenal,” Haley said. “In less than a year, we’ll have our third statue installed. Maye has worked really hard; if it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have any statues in that park. It’s a great event, and every year it gets larger and larger.”

Haley said the next statue will be for the Vietnam section of the park.

Haley told the Board that the Freedom Park 5K Run is coming up, and reminded the commissioners that proceeds from any of the fundraising events conducted by the Freedom Park Committee on behalf of the county go toward funding of the park and the loan payment.

“So funds are tight for us,” she said. “We have no funds to add anything extra, and we barely survive on the two events we do each year and any donations we receive. Until our loan is paid in full, we can’t add anything extra.”

Haley said a $9,000 grant had been received last August from TransCanada which was used to purchase interior blinds for the park’s building, enabling some UV protection for the memorabilia displayed there.

“The sun was literally beating our uniforms to death in there,” she said. “Lighting on the stage is the next thing that will come from that $9,000 grant.”

Haley also told the Board about her upcoming trip to Lansing where she, on behalf of the Robert Friese family and Clare County she would speak before the committee with state Rep. Jason Wentworth about having a section of Old 27 named after the late SPC Robert Friese.

Statue“I didn’t start this process, but I’m grateful to be a part of this,” she said. Haley went on to describe how compiling a PowerPoint presentation of Friese’s life had put into perspective the meaning of a life.

“How do you describe that to a board the meaning of this young man and how he’s affected this community?” Haley said. “How it affects me and what I do every day. It’s a great reminder that we really should never forget. It’s very humbling for me to have a part in doing his life, and what an honor to be able to name a section of the road we brought him home on.”

Haley told the Board she also would be speaking in support of a bill which Wentworth is sponsoring to address veterans counseling services funding at a county level, rather than only at a state level. She said that working from a local level will offer a better likelihood that a veteran will actually receive assistance the first time that veteran seeks it.

“If you go somewhere and they give you a phone number or a closed door, you’re never coming back for help again,” she said. “And that’s a true issue with our veterans across the state.”

Haley said her work in assisting Wexford County is drawing to a close and that she is down to one day each week, with the expectation of her work there ending in June. Haley said they are a bit hesitant to let go of her helping hand, but that she is confident in the group’s ability to move forward.

“It’s been a great partnership,” Haley said.

Commissioner Leonard Strouse spoke up to laud Haley for the work she does on behalf of the county’s veterans.

“I’d just like to say in Clare County how fortunate we are to have Renee Haley here,” Strouse said. “She’s just a superstar in the state of Michigan working for the veterans – and she’s in our county.”

Haley responded, saying she believes it is important to be passionate about what she’s doing.

“I’ve said numerous times, I’m grateful for the opportunity you give me, to not only represent Clare County but to give back to the veterans that I truly believe deserve it the most,” she said.

Haley also touched on the recent announcement regarding the closure of Oakbridge Inn in Clare which provided housing for homeless veterans. She said that in the long run it will be a blessing in disguise.

“I’m working with Mid Michigan Community Action Agency, making sure they all get housed appropriately,” Haley said. “Many of them want to stay in Clare County, but few of them are actual [originally] residents of Clare County.”

Haley said the residents needed a safer environment, that only 18 of about 44 residents were veterans, and all were paying to stay there.