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The Villages
Saturday, July 2, 2022

Villagers for Veterans event benefits disabled veteran making home in The Villages

Pam Kelly is surrounded by State Sen. Dennis Baxley, Sara Kallionen representing the J.A. Thomas Company, and Michael Summers of Disabled American Veterans.

More than 300 guests dined and danced at the Villagers for Veterans’ Fourth Annual Orchid Gala, Saturday evening at the Savannah Center.

They also could dream.

Their sold-out event resulted in the Club having the sufficient funds to purchase a residential lot in the Villages’ Historic section.

Now, they set their next goal: raising the monies needed to finance a custom-built house with all the required special amenities and adaptations for Pam Kelly, who became a quadriplegic in 2002 while on active duty in the Army.

One evening highlight was the presentation of donations. One was for $1,000 by Michael Summers, who represented the Disabled American Veterans.

The other was for $25,000 on behalf of the J.A. Thomas Company.

“With her proceeds from the sale of her company, owner Joanne Webb wanted to make a charitable donation to honor those who have served,” said Sara Kallioinen. “Previously, we had given Villagers for Veterans two other gifts totaling $40,000 that helped purchase specialized electric wheelchairs for other disabled veterans. We are humbled to be a part of Marie’s efforts.”

Keynote Speaker Jaspen Boothe and Betsy Nolan, a Villagers for Veterans board member.

Later, continuing the Gala’s tradition of honoring women in America’s military, was the keynote speaker: Jaspen Boothe, another disabled Army veteran who also faced massive medical costs and obstacles in securing adequate housing.

She had been a member of an Army Reserve unit preparing to deploy to Iraq when disaster struck. First, Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home in New Orleans. Then she was diagnosed with cancer.

Facing discharge, Boothe overcame those challenges, raised her two sons and returned to military duty as a full-time member of the Army National Guard.

In 2010, she started Last Salute Inc. to “ensure that her fallen sister veterans have resources in their time of need.” Her Washington, D.C.-based, non-profit organization has helped more than 3,600 women veterans and children in 30 states.

Prior to the festivities, Boothe told the Villages-News how honored she was to be invited.

“For too long, women have been overlooked and have not received the recognition they long deserved,” Boothe said. “Perhaps people don’t realize that women, even if they’re not in the Infantry, are serving alongside the male counterparts in combat situations. Countless women are buried in our national ceremonies – not as spouses – but because they were killed in action. We don’t hear enough about their bravery and their contributions to our armed forces.”

The program also included a stirring rendition of the national anthem by Army Capt. Shandra Taylor Boyd, who retired with 23 years of service. She also was a guest speaker.

Boyd was the first female African American to graduate from the Valley Forge Military Academy & College and attend the Army’s ROTC Commissioning Program. Today, among her many responsibilities, Boyd serves with the Department of Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program.

The guest of honor, of course, was Kelly.

“I am overwhelmed how wonderful these people are. They have opened their hearts to someone they don’t even know,” she said. “I am so very grateful. They are an inspiration to other disabled vets and whose generosity is enabling them to lead lives as normal as possible.”

Afterwards, everyone enjoyed the musical performance of Johnny Wild and the Delights.

“I greatly appreciate the participation of all of the other members of Villagers for Veterans members and their guests. These volunteers are the ones who made this evening so successful,” concluded Marie Bagdonoff, the club’s founder and CEO. “Tonight, we took another major step to give Pam the independence she so rightly deserves.”

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