Villagers for Veterans donated a whopping $100,000 to Villages Honor Flight on Tuesday night to help fund an upcoming all-female flight to Washington, D.C.
The group raised the money through bingo and trivia events, among others, and then brought it home with the annual Villagers for Veterans Orchid Gala in September, which this year featured 37-year Army veteran Phyllis Wilson, a command chief warrant officer 5 who serves as president of the nation’s first and only national memorial honoring military women, the Women in Military Service For America Memorial.
Villagers for Veterans Founder and President Marie Bogdonoff said raising the majority of the money during the COVID-19 pandemic was an “adventure,” to say the least.
“Through the generosity of the people that live here in The Villages and the people that support both Honor Flight and Villagers for Veterans, and of course, all the women veterans, we able to raise $100,000 that’s going to this flight,” she said shortly after presenting the check.
Liza Walters, who serves as Villages Honor Flight vice president of operations and will be the flight director on the all-women’s flight, said the donation from Villagers for Veterans is the largest her organization has ever received.
“I think it’s absolutely incredible. These ladies are fantastic,” she said. “Marie is like a dynamo. I don’t know how she does it.”
Joe Hambright, who serves as chairman of the board of Villages Honor Flight, agreed.
“When we were first approached by this organization about a year ago, we agreed to take on the project and we are quite surprised at how quickly they raised the money,” he said. “It costs a lot of money to take all these people to Washington and they did it in record time. It’s amazing what they were able to do.”
Hambright said he isn’t sure when flights will resume because of the pandemic, but when that happens, the all-female flight will be an extra mission for the group.
“In order to do this, we all had to agree that we would not allow any of our current waiting list to be pushed back,” he said.
It’s unclear exactly when the all-female flight, which will include 65 veterans, 65 guardians and Honor Flight volunteers, will take place. The organization, which flies veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the military monuments that have been dedicated in their honor, was forced to suspend all of its planned flights for this year in June because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the missions that was forced to be postponed was the group’s 50th flight, which was supposed to take place on April 1 and include 44 veterans.
The mission made up strictly of female veterans would be a first for Villages Honor Flight, which was formed in late 2011 and made its first flight to Washington, D.C. on May 26, 2012. Veterans participating in Honor Flight events meet at American Legion Post 347 in the wee hours of the morning and take buses to Orlando International Airport. From there, they fly to Baltimore and after many special greetings at the airport, they take a bus tour through the city and visit the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial.
Members of Villagers for Veterans and Bogdonoff are known for their tireless efforts to help veterans in need in a variety of ways. In June, the group presented disabled Army Sgt. Pam Kelly with a new smart home on the Historic Side of The Villages following an extensive fundraising campaign. Kelly suffered a devastating injury in 2002 while training for deployment to Iraq, which left her permanently paralyzed with very limited use of one arm.
Villagers for Veterans also brought actor Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band to The Villages in October 2019 for a free concert in Lake Sumter Landing. The event was put on through the Gary Sinise Foundation, which also works tirelessly to support disabled veterans.