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GOOD NEWS!: Grange honors family’s half-century of service to veterans

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

The Bethlehem Grange, working through the New York State Grange, presented the Community Citizen Award to Tom and Patty Wilsey for their work housing veterans in need. Pictured, left to right, are LeeAnn Cross, the Wilseys’ niece who volunteers at the boarding house; Tom Wilsey; Bethlehem Grange Master Vernon Cross; Patty Wilsey; and Bethlehem Grange President Carol Carpenter. Melanie Lekocevic/For Capital Region Independent Media

SELKIRK — When a veteran returns from service and struggles to reintegrate into the community, perhaps enduring years of difficulties, where can they go?

Locally, there is a resource for older veterans who have nowhere else to go — Doc’s Creekside on River Road in Selkirk.

A boarding house that specializes in housing mostly elderly veterans struggling with issues ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to mental health and substance abuse, Doc’s Creekside has been run by three generations of the same family for the past 53 years.

The boarding house first got its start by Tom Wilsey’s grandmother more than a half-century ago, housing young girls who were going blind. When the area blind school moved away, the home transitioned to house struggling veterans.

For the past 20 years, Doc’s Creekside has been run by Tom and Patty Wilsey, continuing the tradition Tom’s grandmother started so many years ago.

The couple was honored for their many years of working with veterans in need by the Bethlehem Grange, which awarded the Wilseys with the Community Citizen Award from the statewide Grange.

“We are the third-generation boarding veterans,” Patty Wilsey said. “Veterans usually come to us from a social worker at the VA. They are not able to live on their own anymore, but they are  not at the point where they have to go to assisted living. So we are the in-between.”

Most of the veterans living at Doc’s Creekside are in their 70s and struggle with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, or mental health issues like schizophrenia, Wilsey said.

Doc’s Creekside is not funded by the state, and the residents of the boarding house self-pay their fees, which include three meals a day, a private bedroom and bathroom. There is also a community room with TVs and games, where the veterans can gather and socialize.

In addition to housing and feeding the veterans, the Wilseys make sure they get to their medical appointments at the VA in Albany and bring them to Walmart once a week. A social worker visits the facility to make sure they are taking their medications, and most have fiduciaries who handle their personal finances.

Doc’s Creekside has rooms to house 12 veterans, and currently has 11 living onsite. For many, issues such as mental health and substance abuse have made it difficult for them to live independently.

“These people have nowhere else to go,” Tom Wilsey said. “They would otherwise be at the mission or out on the street. They would be homeless if not for our boarding house.”

LeeAnn Cross, Patty and Tom’s niece, has been helping out at the boarding house her entire life, and recalls many years of visiting with the veterans, helping out, and sometimes just saying hi.

“I love the guys and they love me,” Cross said. “I go up and talk and visit with them. They like it that they are noticed. A lot of them don’t have families, so they like when I visit with them. It’s wonderful seeing the smiles on their faces.”

Jackie Schrom from the Bethlehem Grange said she recently got to know the Wilseys and their work with veterans, and felt they were deserving of recognition.

“We are honoring them for their service to the veterans, for so many years of devoted time, energy and love,” Schrom said. “I was introduced to Patty not too long ago and I was overwhelmed with what they do. We brought this to the board and decided they were deserving of a community service award.”

The Bethlehem Grange petitioned the statewide Grange to select the Wilseys for the Community Citizen Award and held an award ceremony Oct. 4.

“One of the most important things the Grange can do is honor worthy people in the community for the contributions that they make,” said state Grange secretary Ryan Orton. “Without them, our communities would be very lacking in many respects.”

“This is certainly a deserved award,” Orton said.

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