LYNNWOOD — Terry Smith recently caught up with someone from his old U.S. Army unit, the 295th Aviation Regiment, also known as the “Cyclones.”
They met at a Starbucks in Fife. They talked for six hours. After 30 years, it seemed like not a day had passed, he said.
“The biggest thing about veterans is we’ve all been through the same experiences,” Smith said. “We’ve all been sent to various places around the world to do our thing.”
“We did what we were told to do,” said Dick Thomas, who was an Air Force medic in the 1960s.
The March 27 meetup filled the Verdant Community Wellness Center on 196th Street SW. More than 100 people attend every month, spilling out the doorways and into the halls. Angelita Barnes Shanahan, of Lynnwood, always brings a Costco cake. She leads the group in songs such as “Happy Birthday” and “God Bless America,” followed by yells from the crowd of “Oorah!” and “Play ball!”
Shanahan’s late husband, Bruce Barnes, retired from the Navy after nearly 22 years, including time in Vietnam. He died from health problems related to Agent Orange exposure, she said. Their son, James Barnes, also served in the Navy on a submarine and now works at Boeing in Everett.
The volunteers include Myra Rintamaki, a Gold Star mother from Lynnwood. Her son, Steven Rintamaki, a Marine, was killed in action in Iraq. His mother remains active in veterans’ causes.
At the Hero’s Cafe, the attendees span all generations and military branches. Some wear suits, others sweatpants. As one man put it, “you can be Rotary or rotocopter.”
Several folks said they’d like to see more female veterans represented. Sharing the thought was Kristina Sawyckyj, a Navy veteran who is experiencing homelessness.
The Hero’s Cafe is a partnership among the city, Verdant and other veterans organizations. Gary Walderman, who served in Desert Storm with the Air Force, volunteers as the director.
Mayor Nicola Smith, whose husband was in the Army, and City Councilwoman Shannon Sessions, who served in the U.S. Air Force, have worked together on a number of veterans initiatives in recent years. Those include the cafe, a local museum and having Verdant provide a one-stop shop for veterans resources and benefits.
At the March gathering, Smith asked people what they saw in the room. Someone called out, “A lot of life!”
“Love you guys,” she said. “Keep coming to Hero’s Cafe.”
Resources for veterans around Lynnwood
The Hero’s Cafe is an informal monthly gathering for veterans at the Verdant Community Wellness Center, 4710 196th St. SW, Lynnwood. It runs from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month, and people can come and go. Upcoming dates are April 24, May 22, June 26, July 24, Aug. 28. There is food and coffee, as well as information about connecting with resources, including benefits, and other veteran-centric events and activities.
The same folks also offer “cafe extensions” at Edmonds Community College, Sebastian Place in Lynnwood, the Lynnwood Senior Center and the Chateau Pacific retirement community. Additional extensions are being considered, including evening hours.
For more information about the Hero’s Cafe, contact Gary Walderman at firstname.lastname@example.org. There also are opportunities for volunteers and sponsors.
Jerry Gadek, of the Snohomish County Human Services Department, helps veterans with benefits 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at the Verdant Community Wellness Center. Veterans can walk in or schedule appointments. Assistance in finding housing also is available.
The city of Lynnwood hosts the Northwest Veterans Museum at Heritage Park on Poplar Way. Admission is free, and donations are accepted. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Edmonds Community College plans an annual Memorial Day ceremony at 10:30 a.m. May 23, in advance of the holiday. About 200 local vets have attended in past years.