A hero of homecomings

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Paty Thrond remembers that when veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars came home, they didn’t always get a hero’s welcome from the community.

That’s why it’s always been important for her to be a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary.

“If it weren’t for the VFW, the American Legion and the AmVets, I don’t know how they would have made it,” Thrond said of the returning soldiers of those eras..

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Her father, Laurence Stansbarger, is a Korean War veteran. Her brother, Richard L. Stansbarger, fought in Vietnam and is still listed as missing in action.

It was because of her brother that she and her mother, Lela Stansbarger, became members of the auxiliary in Iowa back in the early 1970s.

Her mother joined the organization in Maquokota, Iowa, and was elected treasurer at her first meeting. She spent 13 years as the president of the auxiliary there. After the family moved to Clinton, Iowa, she spent a number of years as president there, her daughter said.

It was always her mother’s dream to be a state president, but her health held her back, Thrond said.

So when Thrond, now of Emmons, had the opportunity to run, she did so, really in her mother’s honor, and was elected in June.

Thrond first served as a local auxiliary president in Clinton, Iowa. She went through the district chairs in Iowa. When she moved to Wells, where she is a life member of Auxiliary 1778, she again went through the local and district offices.

“One day, I woke up and said, ‘This is it,’” she said of her decision to run for the state presidency.

Since being elected, she’s been on the go, practically nonstop. She still works as the night auditor at the Comfort Inn in Albert Lea, too.

Officially, she has an office at the Veterans Service Building in St. Paul, as does the state treasurer.

As state president, she visits all the veterans’ hospitals in the state, in Luverne, Fergus Falls, Hastings, St. Cloud and Silver Bay, as well as one in Sioux Falls, S.D., and one in Fargo, N.D. So far, she has given all of her love gifts on these tours to the hospitals’ recreation departments.

The state officers also visit all nine districts in Minnesota. “We’re all spread out, which helps a lot,” she said of covering the territory.

She said she stresses that auxiliaries need to get back to the basics. Longtime auxiliary members can remember working hard, but they had fun, too, Thrond said, adding, “It’s not all business.”

Thrond said she believes that because of the hard work the VFW and American Legion, their auxiliaries and their communities have done, soldiers returning home today get a more fitting welcome than the soldiers who came home from Korea and Vietnam.

Minnesota has done a wonderful job welcoming its soldiers back home and taking care of their families while they are gone, Thrond said.

“I’ve witnessed many homecomings,” she said. “The response, love and care is heart-rending.”

Her special president’s project is service-connected diabetes. Sales of her president’s pin, which is a gold heart and silver heart interlocked, joined by a stone to signify unity, help support the project. “It signifies that we all work together to take care of these veterans,” Thrond said. “It’s hearts reaching out to serve the veterans and their families.”

Nationally, the VFW Auxiliary’s membership is working to raise $3.5 million for cancer research. Minnesota has also donated $5,000 toward the VFW National Home for Children in Michigan. The home has to purchase a handicap-accessible van, Thrond said.

Buddy Poppies are another project of the auxiliary in May, she said, adding there are contests throughout the year that use the Buddy Poppy.

As state president, Thrond and the Wells and Albert Lea auxiliaries hosted the national president, Jan Tittle, in October. It’s the first time the local auxiliaries have hosted the national president, she said.

Thrond said she loves to travel, and since taking office has been in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the national president’s homecoming, in New York for the Statue of Liberty’s birthday celebration, in Omaha, Neb., and Phoenix. She’s also scheduled to go to Grand Rapids, Mich., and Las Vegas.

She said a one-year term really isn’t long enough to get done what she’d like to. “I’m so busy, but I am trying to enjoy it,” Thrond said.