Five Hours, 15 Miles, and One Pair of Shoes: How a Retired Veteran Made His Journey for Help in Madison

Story & photos by Cooper Adams, American Red Cross

In a podiatrist’s chair at a repurposed community center nurse’s office, West Jones could finally rest his feet.

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West Jones, left, poses with Jodi Grosinske, an organizer of Stand Down Madison.

Two days ago, Jones, a retired Marine, had heard about Stand Down Madison, a resources event for veterans. He knew he could use the help. But, without a car, ride or bus pass, Jones made his way more than 15 miles to the event the only way he could: he walked.

“Everyone has their own ways of doing things,” Jones said. “And walking here was my way.”

After the five-hour walk – along city streets from his home in Stoughton to the event in Madison – Jones was one of dozens of veterans greeted by organizations at Stand Down Madison. Organizer Jodi Grosinske guided Jones to the podiatrist’s chair for a check-up and pedicure, and introduced him to a slew of other agencies on hand to help, including the American Red Cross and volunteer Chuck Patzer.


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Jones’s transportation troubles spotlight the range of challenges expressed by veterans at Stand Down Madison, which centers on veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness. After receiving first-hand compassion to go along with hygiene items, a sewing kit and that pedicure, Jones also got a ride back to his home. It was part of a longer journey.

From Marines to Madison

In his younger years, Jones wanted to serve his country any way he could. He was intrigued by the slogan “The Marine Corps Builds Men” and decided to enlist.

In boot camp in San Diego, Jones said he kept everyone’s morale high with his humor and positive attitude. West described his time as a good experience overall. He’d gotten to meet all kinds of people during his service. Once at a shooting range, Jones said he fired 10 rounds and hit 10 bullseyes, which garnered respect from his platoon. But, after only eight months, he was discharged.

“There was something wrong with my brain,” Jones clarified. “It should’ve been looked at before I was sent to boot camp.”

After his discharge, Jones spent the next 30 years with his brother, an Air Force veteran. They took care of each other (West said his brother was injured while serving). West also found comfort in an exploration of his faith.

Now, Jones lives alone in Stoughton. When he’d learned about Stand Down Madison, he knew it was a chance to take advantage of resources he needed, prompting his 15-mile hike. During this morning-long event in October, veterans like Jones received everything from legal representation to hygiene items, from career opportunities to hot meals. Jones was very grateful for everything available, and filled his cart with deodorant, printed-out Bible verses, and a sewing kit.

From One Veteran to Another

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Chuck Patzer, volunteer with the American Red Cross and a Vietnam War veteran, at an October 2019 veteran resource event in Madison.

While visiting the Red Cross booth, Jones met fellow veteran and volunteer, Chuck Patzer.

Since birth, Patzer’s life had been intertwined with the military. While his mother visited his father stationed in California during World War II, he was born. As a young man, Patzer was drafted for the Vietnam War and served as a signal translator all over the world, including Virginia, Germany, and Vietnam. Fifty years later, Patzer is still doing his part to help those who have served, like West Jones.

Patzer has been a volunteer for the American Red Cross for 10 years. Inspired by the need after Hurricane Katrina, Patzer, a retired letter carrier, came to a Red Cross office with a donation of blankets. There, Patzer was asked if he’d like to volunteer. In his decade of volunteer service since, Patzer has primarily helped as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member and as a volunteer with the Service to Armed Forces team. As a DAT lead, Patzer travels to sites of disasters like fires or floods, offering assistance.

“We provide things like food and offer help to people who need it,” Patzer explained. “It’s an emotional time, but the people we help are always thankful, even if they just needed a hug”.

With veterans, Patzer said the most important thing he provides is comfort. Veterans who suffer from dementia may feel lost, so Patzer said he brings along animatronic animals to spark their memories of childhood pets. The sweet sounds these faux felines and canines make can help to ease stress for veterans he meets. It’s also an entry point, to talk, to listen, and to share. From there, Patzer said he can provide other hygiene basics on offer from the Red Cross and let them know their sacrifice and service are deeply appreciated.

You can meet and help veterans, service members, and their families. Join our Service to the Armed Forces volunteers. Take that first step by clicking here.

In retirement, SAF volunteer Holsinger is proud to be ‘somebody who cares’ for veterans and service members

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy, American Red Cross

Volunteers may not always have a background in the area where they dedicate their time and talent. But they’ve all got the passion.

Rich Holsinger is a retired professional who has spent his career honing his managerial skills in regional management positions at a national retail giant and a popular coffee roaster. After his retirement, Rich began working with the American Red Cross two years ago as a lead volunteer at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Department.

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Rich Holsinger preps SAF materials for his activities with veterans and service members in the Madison area.

On the surface, Rich’s volunteer work with SAF is quite a bit different than his professional background. SAF at the Red Cross proudly serves veterans, service members and their families. All the same, since taking up his volunteer leadership role, Rich has made a remarkable impact on the lives of numerous veterans and their families and caregivers.

“The volunteers don’t do a lot of talking, but we do a lot of listening. It’s interesting to hear their stories and just show them that there’s somebody who cares,” Rich said in regards to why he enjoys serving and working with his team.

Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.

Rich has created exciting weekly programming for patients including activities such as dinners with game nights, BINGO with prizes, tailgate parties, nightly performances from local music groups and sing-a-longs.

“With the different programs we’re running now, whether you’re working with a veteran or you’re working with a caregiver of a veteran, to see them relax, to see them talk about something else rather than medical … I usually get more out of it than I put into it. I find it very rewarding,” Rich said.

In two weeks, Rich is looking forward to hosting the Madison V.A.’s first picnic.

“We’re working with the V.A. to ensure that we have the right kind of food for them… the Red Cross will supply all of the food and the hospital will prepare it,” he said.

He also spoke about how some hotels in the area including Stay Bridge Suites Middleton/Madison-West have provided spaces for veterans during their time at the Madison V.A. as well as resources for events for veterans and their caregivers.

While Rich is truly enjoying his role and continuing to help the Red Cross team at the Madison V.A. grow, he didn’t have plans to volunteer for the Red Cross before his retirement and explained more about why he chose to apply as a volunteer for the Red Cross and got his start as the new lead volunteer at the Madison V.A. Medical Center.

Rich had been retired for about five months when he realized that he didn’t want to just retire and focus on himself and play golf all day, one of his favorite pastimes. With the extra time on his hands, he wanted to make a difference in his community where he could and help people in need.

He began researching volunteer organizations and found a volunteer position that was seeking “somebody to take charge and start building some programs for the veterans at the hospital in the area.”

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SAF volunteers set up a refreshments table at a recent service member send-off event in Franklin.

He knew that his vast experience of managing people in project and program development would be a great fit. He saw it as an exciting opportunity to do what he enjoyed and was familiar with and put his passion and talent to the test, starting with new entertainment and program development for veterans and their families and caregivers.

Rich said that two people who have been monumentally helpful and amazing to work with on projects are Richard Seymour, SAF Program Director, and Michelle Matuszak, SAF Manager. Rich said Matuszak and Seymour have been instrumental in helping Rich on his volunteer journey, and he’s thankful that they gave him the freedom to “do his own thing.” The praise goes both ways.

“We had issues with getting leadership in the Madison V.A.,” Seymour said. “Within a year Rich has started and established programs, built a volunteer team and … controls the budget we have established for the Madison V.A. I wish I could clone him 10 times!”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here.

A Hand Up for Veterans at Milwaukee Stand Down Rally

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

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Walter Donaldson joined 172 veterans Saturday at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

With icy rain and whipping winds outside of the Richards Street Armory in Milwaukee, Walter Donaldson was perfectly content to reminisce on warmer and brighter days, during the 1990s, when he lived in Florida.

Donaldson lived there during and after his service in the Army. He taught high school students and even volunteered for the American Red Cross after a tropical storm. The years since then haven’t always been easy or kind to Donaldson, he said, with a wizened smile and a follow up declaration that he’s doing better now, with a place to stay on the southwest side of Milwaukee and a chance to teach again. On this day, he attributed an upbeat attitude partly to thoughts of Florida during a Midwestern winter, and partly from the clothing, personal items and resources he received at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

“This helps. I’m grateful, all of this helps,” Donaldson said, pointing to clothing and Red Cross bags.

Donaldson joined more than 170 area veterans at the Stand Down rally at The Armory, a bi-annual event that focuses on homeless or at-risk veterans. At Saturday’s Stand Down, veterans had the opportunity to meet with dozens of organizations, including the Red Cross, veterans’ groups and food providers, health professionals and hair stylists, as well as various state and federal agencies. Service to the Armed Forces volunteers and staff from the Red Cross once again provided hygiene items and informational/communication resources for veterans.

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A veteran in prayer during Saturday’s event at The Richards Street Armory.

The event is billed as a “hand up, not a handout” for veterans. Between meals, check-ins and conversation, the rally included call-and-response shout outs to the five branches of the military, patriotic songs and a plea from organizer Stan Kogutkiewicz for vets in the crowd to use the resources in the room.

“Do not leave here until you get going on your problems,” echoed George Martin, one of the event emcees.

For Marvin Britton, that meant taking a stroll through the booths that packed The Armory. Britton’s gold Army ring caught the light as he talked and clutched onto a smooth wooden cane, as he shared straightforward stories of service, of addiction, of sweethearts long gone. Since his service in Vietnam, from 1974-78, life took him to San Diego and La Crosse, with time on and off in Milwaukee. These days, he’s staying in Union Grove at the Wisconsin Veterans Home, from where a group of veterans bused in for the rally.

“I’m fine, now … just trying to stay healthy. Got my backpack, going to the booths after I get some of [those] clothes” from the clothing donation line, he said.

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Veterans received information on ways they can connect with resources and family from the American Red Cross.

Ready to meet Britton, Donaldson and all the veterans were volunteers like Bob Nelson. Nelson joined the small team handing out American Red Cross bags with hygiene items and veterans resources information at the west end of the stout military hall. Nelson’s son is in the Marine Corps, connecting him to a lineage of men who have served in their family. For Bob Nelson – also on the Red Cross disaster action team – meeting and sharing with veterans at the Stand Down rally is a small gesture of gratitude.

“This is something I can do, I can be here,” Nelson said.

For more information on the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down event, click here.

To get involved or find out more on the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission for veterans and military service members and their families, click here.

Army National Guard sendoff includes Red Cross volunteers who can relate

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

Mark Matuszak could see a bit of himself in every family member cheering on, hugging and giving teary goodbyes to their beloved service members at an Army National Guard soldier sendoff last week in Green Bay.

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American Red Cross Northeast Wisconsin Chapter board members Phil Zubella and Sarah Dressel (both at front) joined a sendoff for soldiers recently in Green Bay.

Matuszak’s son, Dan, is a U.S. Army Green Beret. It wasn’t long ago that Dan shipped off to the Philippines for military assignment – leaving Mark and family to carry understandable concern back here in Wisconsin during Dan’s deployment.

Knowing that important yet sometimes difficult role military families hold, Matuszak said he knew the value in joining fellow American Red Cross board members and volunteers in support of approximately 400 soldiers and their families at an event Nov. 29 at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

“I can relate to the family and the folks that are here, understand how deployment is going to affect their family,” Matuszak said. “Not seeing [a deployed family member] hurts, but you know they’re doing it for the right reasons and the right cause. It’s a noble cause.”

Matuszak was one of approximately 15 Red Cross board members, volunteers and staff who joined in the warm community sendoff for Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers from the Appleton-based 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team headed out to Afghanistan.

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A spread of snacks and information for service members and their families provided by the Red Cross.

The Red Cross was one in a group of organizations in attendance to join in the sendoff, as part of its Service to the Armed Forces mission. Red Cross volunteers and board members served coffee, donuts, bananas and string cheese provided by Kwik Trip, along with offering information on resources during and long after the soldiers’ deployment. (Click here to view and share from a collection of Red Cross photos from the event on Facebook.)

Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, Wisconsin Army National Guard, took time in his remarks during the event to recognize the family and friends in attendance, and listed off supported organizations such as the Red Cross.

“We can’t do what we do, this mission, without your support,” Conde said.


Are you looking for a new way to support our military service members and families? On this page you find out how you can play an important role as a volunteer or supporter of our Service to the Armed Forces program.


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Army National Guard leaders received a Wisconsin flag from outgoing Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. The Green Bay deployment event was the largest of its kind in recent years.

The event was the largest combined send-off for northeast Wisconsin in recent years. Only about 20 percent of the soldiers had previously deployed. According to a military release, the unit is “comprised of teachers, students, electricians, engineers, computer IT specialists, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, welders, auto mechanics, craftsmen” from across Wisconsin but predominately from the Fox Valley and Green Bay.

For Matuszak, that group also included a co-worker at Great Northern Corporation hired a few years ago, and another co-worker’s son. As a board member volunteering at the event, Matuszak was able to talk with people and families he knew, as well as others with whom he shares a military connection.

“I understand what’s facing them, so it’s humbling for me to watch what they’re about to go through,” he said.

The projected return for the soldiers is late fall of 2019.

From Donut Dollie to the Milwaukee VA: Evans marks 50 years of military support

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

As Mary Evans leafed through a box labeled “Vietnam,” she verbally connected the dots along her American Red Cross volunteer contributions, from Memorial Day at the Milwaukee VA in 2018 to her stint as a “Donut Dollie” exactly 50 years ago.

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Mary Evans, SAF volunteer, holds a snapshot taken in Vietnam during her time as a Donut Dollie.

In the box, amid the color pictures: scenes of Evans with G.I.s in front of Christmas trees covered in tinsel during downtime; a trio of soldiers around Evans, two smiling and one solemn, posed in front of endless barracks. In black-and-white photos: a band rocking out, followed by a shot of Evans, in Red Cross stylized dress, in front of a lineup of military trucks. An illustrated “Pocket Guide to Vietnam” tour book. A laminated Red Cross “Emergency Identification” issued under Evans’s maiden name, de la Forest.

Evans, who lives in Milwaukee with her husband, John, shared the memories from five decades ago in part to keep alive the service of the Donut Dollies, but also in hopes to inspire others to volunteer for service members through the Red Cross.

“The role we had … I think it was incredible,” Evans said. “To all of them, you were like their sister, their mother, their girlfriend. I think we provided a tremendous service in taking their minds off things.”


Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.


Through a Red Cross program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas, American women volunteered to bring refreshments, entertainment and a flash of cheer to military servicemen during the Vietnam War. They were dubbed “Donut Dollies” by service members, a name that stuck, though their goodwill work amid the trauma of war is sometimes misremembered or lost.

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Mary Evans, center, poses with some of the soldiers she worked with in 1968 as an American Red Cross volunteer in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

Evans said she “felt something was missing” in her life in spring 1968. Graduated from college and working at a bank in San Francisco, she wanted to get involved in a positive way in the war that served as a flashpoint for one of the most chaotic years in global history. Compelled to do something for those in military service, Evans called an American Red Cross office in northern California. And, “six weeks later, I was on my way” to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, off the South China Sea.

Evans and the other Dollies would put together 50 minutes of games, activities and entertainment, amid their namesake snacks and refreshments, at about six U.S. Army sites per day, five to six days a week. There was plenty of time for competition in the activities, and conversation throughout their visits. Evans said she felt the enlisted “lifers” were more lonely and appreciative of the lifeline to something outside of war when the Dollies came. They frequently ran into soldiers at a high or low, as she said they often presented their programs immediately before or after soldiers took leave.

In a warzone, Evans hesitated to call their volunteering dangerous. But it was clear they were far from home.

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A 1968 American Red Cross I.D. for Mary Evans (nee de la Forest). Evans remains active with Service to the Armed Forces volunteering in Wisconsin.

“Jeeps, trucks, choppers … MPs would pick us up and they would drive us back for several miles to our center. There were flares going up across the Bay, but I felt safe almost the whole time,” she said.

When Evans’s father passed away suddenly, her stint in Vietnam ended so that she could come home to help her mother and family. As free time cropped up, she returned to volunteering with the Red Cross at a medical hospital near her home in Santa Rosa, Calif. Although she couldn’t return to Vietnam with the Red Cross as she had hoped, while stateside she was able to stay in touch with fellow Donut Dollies and Army service members as they returned.

Years on and starting her own family, Evans moved to southeast Wisconsin. It wasn’t long before she dialed the local Red Cross to see how she could contribute, once again for those who served. This call brought her to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, where, during Red Cross volunteer activities, she’s been able to get to know Jaime, a former Tuskegee Airman, and Norm, a combat-wounded veteran with a penchant for polka music. In a different way than her Donut Dollies days, these Wednesday mornings at the Milwaukee VA gave her the sense of providing relief and escape for service members.

“It’s not so much looking back at what they did or what we did. We’re mainly thanking them for their service,” she said.

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Mary Evans and her husband, John, at left, shared lunch with veterans and fellow Red Cross volunteers at the Milwaukee VA on Memorial Day 2018.

Evans has slowed down with volunteering in the past year, with time focused on a few family matters. But she did participate with other Red Cross volunteers in the big Memorial Day barbecue at the Milwaukee V.A. in 2018, bringing meals to vets unable to make it outside. And her foundation in giving herself to service members and veterans hasn’t wavered since the ‘60s, said Richard Seymour, Service to the Armed Forces program director, Wisconsin Region.

“Support for veterans and service members are core to the Red Cross mission, and Mary has embodied that mission for five decades,” Seymour said. “Whether on the frontlines in Vietnam or at a community commemoration in Milwaukee, Mary puts her heart into the volunteer work she does with our service members.”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here.

Welcome Rich Seymour

rich-seymourWe’re proud to announce that Rich Seymour has joined the Wisconsin team as our Service to the Armed Forces Director! Just retiring from the Army after 30 years, Rich is excited to start a career where he will continue to care for service members, veterans and their families.

During his illustrious work with the Army, he completed multiple deployments and attained the rank of Command Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank in the Army. Throughout his career he became familiar with and utilized the Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces.

“I continuously used Red Cross as a tool to help the soldiers and families that I had under my leadership. I can give you hundreds of stories where Red Cross services contributed to the morale and welfare of the Armed Forces members.”

Originally from Baraboo, Wisconsin, he’s called many places “home” over the years -the Republic of Panama, South Korea, and various places stateside. Along for the ride have been his wife and two sons – and his dogs, too.

We could not be more excited to have Rich on the Red Cross team and back in his home state of Wisconsin!

If you’d like to get involved with the Red Cross, click here.

To look at Red Cross employment opportunities, click here.

Remembering One of Our Own Donut Dollies: Emily Strange

Emily Strange (July 23, 1946 – July 12, 2016) served as a Red Cross Donut Dollie with the 9th Infantry Division and Mobile Riverine Force. The Red Cross program was called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO).

When President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you…ask what you can do for your country”, what call to actions do you think of to help your country? Recycle more? Travel to third world countries and provide support in education and health? As a young college graduate in the 1960’s from Atlanta, Georgia, Emily Strange went to Vietnam as a Donut Dollie with the American ReIMG_2583d Cross to provide aide and a piece of home to soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War.

Side lesson: Donut Dollies started in WWI then continued onto WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War. Donut Dollies made and brought donuts and coffee to soldiers on base. It was one of the many things they did, to help ease soldiers’ minds into a safe and comforted feeling to mentally escape the war environment, even if it was just for a little bit.

Earlier this year in April, the Red Cross honored Emily Strange at her residence, Rainbow Hospice Care Inc. in Johnson Creek, WI. She, along with two other Donut Dollies, Pat Rowan of Texas and Margaret “Maggie” Godson of South Carolina and Registered Nurse Joan Garvert of Illinois were awarded with a certificate and pin for their courageous service.

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Strange reminisced with the Red Cross about comforting the soldiers– they had just lost a lot of the men in their unit and were digging holes for the night. She spoke to them; joked around and comforted them to ease their minds, “maybe we’re not gonna die tonight”. Watch: https://youtu.be/ypUfKznwQgU

She even wore perfume around the soldiers to help them sense their girlfriends, mothers and a piece of home. It took them out of the war.

Strange passed away last month at Rainbow Hospice Care Inc. Barbara Behling, Red Cross Chief Communications Officer, was an attendee at the ceremony. She said that when Strange spoke it was like an “open window to her soul”. The courageous stories Strange told and the memories she shared were incredible. She is truly missed.

To learn more about the Donut Dollies, please visit http://www.donutdollies.com/.

Strange also created her own website to share her Donut Dollies stories and to reconnect with those that served in Vietnam: www.EmilyDD.com.


Thank you, Emily Strange!

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