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This day has special meaning for these widows

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HUDSON—For most of us, Memorial Day is a long weekend, the start of summer, a time to plant the tomatoes and the occasion for barbecues. For the widows of local veterans, it is the time when the nation as a whole acknowledges what veterans have done for all of us, a time when pride of service is shared.

The Columbia County Veterans Service Agency in Hudson formed the first-in-the-state widows group about one year ago. It has grown to 15 dedicated members, the widows of veterans who fought at various times, from the Korean War to the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Polly Crosby’s husband, Fred, enlisted in the Army at 17 during the Vietnam War. He became a bulldozer operator, building the roads traveled by infantrymen and vehicles, facing sniper fire and enduring exposure to Agent Orange—the effects of which he suffered later in life.

Polly’s father also served, in World War II. “Veterans are my utmost heroes. On Memorial Day the country joins in thanking them for their service.”

Members of the Columbia County Veterans Service Agency first-in-the-state widows group are (l to r) Bootie Fenoff, Polly Crosby and Joan Salazar. Photo by Deborah E. Lans

Bootie Fenoff’s husband Richard likewise joined the service—for him, the Navy—at 17. He served during the Korean War on the USS Taconic as a radioman. Sometimes when asked a question by his family, he would answer: “dit dit, dot dot,” as a joke. He loved his time in the service, and Bootie often saw the true brotherhood that is unique among veterans.

Joan Salazar’s husband, Claude (Paul), served as a radio operator in the Korean war, but in the Air Force. He too occasionally lapsed into “dit dot” mode. He always told Joan that his years in the service were the best in his life, “knowing he had helped his country.”

On Memorial Day, Mrs. Fenoff visits Richard in the cemetery, then watches (one or more) parades. Mrs. Crosby attends her hometown parade, in West Stockbridge, then Fred’s hometown parade, in Canaan. At sunset (Fred’s favorite time) she visits with Fred at the cemetery and says that she reads his favorite poem to him, “In Flanders Fields.”

The group offers the widows an opportunity to honor their late husbands’ service by giving to veterans and their families.

The group also operates a food store. Any veteran or family member can come in, browse and pick up whatever food items they need, for free, no questions asked.

Fresh eggs and hamburger meat are donated every week by a local farmer. Shelves of canned goods are available, as well as powdered milk, microwaveable dinners, pasta, peanut butter and jelly in abundance and much more.

The Loving Hands of the Ghent Reformed Church makes regular food donations. One day a stranger dropped in, looked around, drove off and returned with a trunk load of food.

The store also stocks necessaries like toothpaste, toothbrushes, towels and can openers.

Many of the veterans the store serves have PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, live alone and have minimal cooking skills or barebones facilities, so food that can be made on a hot plate (“just heat and eat”) is in demand. Smaller packages are preferred.

The store also accepts donations of good quality used clothing. Recently, the Sheriff’s Office dropped off a load of clothing, including flip flops, which were gobbled up like flap jacks.

The widows hold a free coffee hour from 10 a.m. to noon on the second Tuesday of each month. Coffee, bagels and cream cheese and pastries are donated by the Hudson Shop Rite. As Mrs. Crosby says, “Service never ends for veterans, it’s always in their heads but they rarely talk to their wives about it.” The coffee hour is a chance to talk freely with other veterans.

The widows group helps its members too. As Mrs. Crosby explains, “After my husband died, my social life contracted. I was no longer part of a couple. I became isolated.” The group helped her adapt to the loss of her husband, gave her an opportunity to honor him and his service and bred new friendships for her.

The food store is located at 389 Fairview Avenue in Hudson. It is open Tuesday-Thursday 9:30-11:30 a.m. and at other times will be opened up by request via a call to 518-828-3610. Interested widows or those interested in donating can contact gary.flaherty@columbiacountyny.com or drop by the store on one of the open days.

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