With everything the Lake Kennedy Senior Center does for its members, it took a while for it to come up with the idea of holding a special event for its veterans.
But when it finally did, the center went all out, and on Friday afternoon more than 100 veterans, from World War II to Desert Storm, and their spouses came to the center for lunch, presentations and entertainment from the senior center's numerous members during the first Veteran's Appreciation Day luncheon.
The event was free for veterans and $7 for non-vets.
From left, veterans Joe Neelon, Frank LaBarbera, Larry Ager, Dave Drake, Jack Mulvey and Phil Hicks at the Veterans Appreciation Day event at the Lake Kennedy Senior Center on Friday.
For those who founded the event, it had a special meaning.
"This event is really special to our hearts because we appreciate our veterans," said Myri Del Leon, recreational specialist at the center. "I have many veterans in my family, so I like to offer programs with a meaning, so I said let's do it annually."
The event featured a light lunch, which began with an invocation by Chaplain Larry Ager, a Vietnam veteran from the Army who served on and off until 2005.
"There are a lot of veterans who predate me. We just stand on their shoulders and move forward," Ager said. "Tell the veterans 'welcome home' and thank their family members, who share the loneliness and worry with the veteran until he comes home."
There were also short speeches from Del Leon and the community partners who made the luncheon possible.
The highlight of the event was guest speaker and veteran Jonathan Scalone, who spoke to veterans about facing the end of life and how seniors should approach the questions surrounding it.
"We have served our country. One more patriotic act is to serve our family so they don't fight over the care you choose," Scalone said.
After that came the entertainment, featuring the Suncoast Sunshine Cloggers, singing from retired Air Force Col. Joe Neelon and Shirley Sabel, and a rousing climax with the senior center choir and dancers joining in a rendition of "God Bless America."
Veterans were allowed the opportunity to come onstage and share their stories with their fellow veterans, but nobody took the offer.
That didn't mean they didn't have a good time or appreciate the efforts of the senior center.
"Everything was well done. I hope they have another one this year," said Korean War veteran Dick Beaulieu before being overcome by emotions for a moment and saying, "It's hard sometimes."
"It's a special thing to do for special people on a special day," Sean Reilly, a veteran of Desert Storm and Operation Freedom in Iraq from 2005-06. "It's wonderful all the volunteers who come out and share their free time."
The lunch was sponsored by United Nursing Services, Platinum Elite Realty, GMC Financial Services, Southwest Florida Coastal Home Watch, Lowes, Bealls, Publix and Downtowner Car Wash.
"We salute all our veterans and we are thankful for them and we hope we can do this every year and it gets bigger and better," Del Leon said.