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Friday, April 19, 2013
A chance meeting with the late Evelyn Kowalchuk, who died earlier this month at 93, set in motion an event at Smith Mountain Lake that honors female veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces such as Kowalchuk.
Neighbors Katrina D’Inzillo and Dawn Swistak were part of a group from Winding Waters attending a lecture on World War II medics sponsored by the National D-Day Memorial at the Bedford Welcome Center in 2011.
“And who was sitting in the audience but Evelyn Kowalchuk,” recalled D’Inzillo. “She was introduced at the end, so Dawn and I raced over because we wanted to pick Evelyn’s brain.”
The friends invited the former U.S. Army flight nurse to lunch.
“ ‘I don’t do lunches, but I do like to talk,’ ” Kowalchuk replied, according to D’Inzillo.
After what D’Inzillo described as a “delightful” meeting with Kowalchuk, whom they had long admired for her World War II service and civic involvement, D’Inzillo and Swistak put their heads together to come up with a way to recognize local women who serve or have served their country. They wanted to involve the local chapter of the Disabled American Veterans.
What they decided on was a dinner that would feature Kowalchuk as the keynote speaker while generating interest in the DAV.
The first dinner and program sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary was held at Trinity Ecumenical Parish in March 2012 with Kowalchuk as the main speaker.
This year’s event is May 17 at Faith Fellowship Church, 100 Wirtz Road in Wirtz, about 3 miles north of Rocky Mount.
Doors will open at 5 p.m. for registration and social time; dinner will follow at 6 p.m.
The dinner and program are free and open to those who want to help honor women who have served or are serving in the U.S. military, along with their families.
Those wishing to attend are asked to reserve a seat in advance by May 1 and indicate if they are female veterans. This will help in planning the event, as seating is limited to 300. Female veterans will be introduced to the audience.
D’Inzillo, who is not a veteran, said you do not have to have served to attend the dinner or to belong to the auxiliary, which was formed in May 2012. Anybody with friends or family members who are vets can join the auxiliary.
“My dad was in the service, and I had an uncle who was 19 when he landed on Guadalcanal with the Marines,” said D’Inzzio. “I have a heart for veterans.”
This year’s speakers are 92-year-old Frances “Rusty” Brennan Rice of Blacksburg, who was a World War II Army nurse stationed in France; Bernard Marie from Roanoke, a native of France who hosts an annual dinner for veterans in Roanoke; April Cheek-Messier from the National D-Day Memorial; and John Hatfield, executive director of the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.
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