Hospice professional helps aging veterans on VetsRoll trip

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Anna Marie Lux
Saturday, May 17, 2014

JANESVILLE—George Nordeng is about to live a dream.

The 86-year-old wants to mingle with other World War II vets and see the monuments built in his honor.

But Nordeng, who has Parkinson's disease, cannot do it alone.

Certified nursing assistant Kathy Patrick with Mercy Hospice Care and the VetsRoll program are making his wish come true.

Nordeng is among 200 veterans, who will depart Beloit early Sunday morning on a four-day journey, which is certain to kindle long-ago memories.

Five years ago, Mark and John Finnegan of Beloit launched VetsRoll. The grassroots effort honors veterans with what they call “a long overdue gift of thanks.”

With financial support from the community, the Finnegans organize free motor coach trips annually to Washington, D.C., for veterans of World War II and the Korean War. Among their stops are the World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials.

This is the first time Mercy Hospice Care is sending a health professional to help a veteran.

“We are trying to honor as many of the final wishes of our patients as we can,” said Angie Marshall, hospice nurse coordinator.

The agency is paying Patrick's $500 fee for the trip and wages.

“George really wants to do this,” Marshall said. “He has a really good relationship with Kathy, who makes it easier for him to travel.”

Patrick normally visits Nordeng twice a week at his home to help with personal care. She considers it an honor to accompany him to Washington, D.C.

“Most of the time, I'll be pushing him in a wheelchair,” Patrick said. “I can't even imagine the thoughts and memories that will be flooding through his mind.”

At the end of World War II, Nordeng served 13 months in the U.S. Navy. He was discharged in May 1946.

During his career, Nordeng worked at Sears in sales and also was manager of Ace Hardware on River Street in Janesville.

“He is a very patriotic man,” said Lucy, his wife of 35 years. “He has instilled the same patriotism in our children.”

Nordeng's blended family has long involvement in the military. One son served in Vietnam, a second served in Desert Storm and a third served in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. A fourth son is a captain in the Navy stationed in San Diego, California.

In addition to helping Nordeng, Patrick will assist Kenneth Mundy of Beloit. The 82-year-old also is a client of Mercy Hospice Care. He served in the Korean War from 1952-1954 as a corporal in the U.S. Army.

Mark Finnegan of VetsRoll said most vets on this year's trip are from the Korean War.

“The average age of World War II vets now is 90-something,” he said. “Many are unable to travel.”

Veterans are coming from 21 states to make the journey.

Finnegan praises the local community for its continued support of VetsRoll, which was inspired by Finnegan's father, a World War II veteran.

“We don't have a major corporate sponsor,” Finnegan said. “Our funds come from mostly local fundraisers and contributions. People take a lot of pride in knowing that they play a part in making it happen.”

He enjoys the rigors of organizing the trip for a simple reason:

“It grabs your heart,” Finnegan said. “And it doesn't let go.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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