Vietnam veteran and Sheffield Lake resident Joe Gee still lives the Marine motto, Semper Fidelis, or “Always Faithful.”
His wife, Rosa, shares that devotion to service. For decades, they have poured themselves into helping Lorain County veterans. While many couples in their 70s are retired, the Gees devote considerable time every week to veterans organizations and individual veterans who seek their help.
During 2020, dozens of veterans events and fundraisers were canceled due to COVID-19. Some might think that would give the Gees a breather.
“We spent more time on the phone and internet than being out and about,” Rosa said.
The couple frequently found themselves fastened to their phones with Joe arranging for military honor guards for veterans’ funerals, which increased in number last year over recent years. He is particularly committed to ensuring veterans receive the sendoff they have earned.
He also is pragmatic about the enormous effort it takes to recruit honor guards for several funerals each week, acknowledging many who volunteer for this service are older and had health issues before the pandemic. He works with local veterans organizations – many of which he is a member – to recruit.
He said in the past they carpooled. With COVID, everyone needs to provide their own transportation, creating another hurdle for him to overcome. He is not the least bit concerned about the time it takes. “It's an honor for us,” he said.
On the day they were interviewed, Rosa was raising money to help a vet pay for expensive car repairs. COVID did more than place their health at risk, it also threw some into economic chaos and that's where she uses her extensive contacts to help.
As Christmas approached, Rosa was connecting veterans who could not afford a Christmas tree with a group who donated them. They were preparing for a Christmas food distribution, like the one they had done at Thanksgiving. Joe explained the Lorain County Veterans Services Commission was using COVID relief funds to pay for the food. He is one of five commissioners appointed by Lorain County Common Pleas judges. Joe was appointed in 2019 to fill an unexpired term that runs through this year.
Rosa is also involved with the Veterans Services Commission, recently accepting the position of secretary to a committee that helps secure emergency financial assistance and shelter for veterans. She fills a similar role with the nonprofit Veterans Who Care, based in Lorain.
Joe said what he and Rosa accomplish would not be possible without the help of others. “We have the best network including United Auto Workers 2000, Craig Lukes and Veterans Who Care, and local veterans groups like AmVets, VFW or DAV.” Joe is a UAW retiree and is still active with the union's retiree and public outreach groups, holding leadership posts in both.
Joe also is lead mentor for the county's Veterans Court. The initiative, now 4 years old, helps veterans who commit nonviolent offenses receive counseling, job training and other support in lieu of jail time. They are closely monitored to ensure they complete the requirements set forth by the judge, with Joe and other mentors at the ready to support them.
It's a role for which Joe is perfectly suited. “I see a need because veterans I meet have PTSD and they need to talk about what bothers them. They really need to talk these things over with those who understand. I always tell people, you call me 24/7. I'm available to talk all the time.”
The Gees are also supporters of Valor Home, a transitional home for homeless veterans. Rosa said it might surprise many to learn how many homeless veterans there are. She helps them secure apartments, furniture and other household items. Joe has served on its Board of Advisers since it opened in 2014.
After going through the long list of veterans activities they support, she just laughs when asked, “Do you ever have five minutes to yourself?” It's even more notable because Rosa also serves on Sheffield Lake City Council. The couple, who met in 1973, have six children between them as well as 18 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Her answer is straightforward. “If they (veterans) need something, we do it. It doesn't matter where they live,” she said. Laughing again, she added, “COVID made you realize how much we take for granted. Who'd have thought toilet paper would be a specialty item?”
Contact freelance writer Michele Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.