oundation helps veterans hunt again

oundation helps veterans hunt again

Image Credit: Submitted

Sometimes, things just seem to gather momentum all on their own. Such would seem to be the case with Veterans Outdoor Adventures, the brainchild of Curt Baumann of Dover.

The 3-year-old foundation, a state-recognized nonprofit, builds deer stands/hunting blinds. For reasons of age, disability or simply not being able to stand the cold, many veterans have been unable to hunt, and they miss it.

These are no ordinary deer stands either. These stand-alone havens have carpeting, heat, furniture, windows and stairs so no one has to climb a tree.

Perhaps even more remarkable than the deer stands, though, are the story of how the foundation came to be and the joy they bring to veterans who have received them.

Baumann, who spent 14 years with the Veterans Administration in Canton and served in the Air Force, had met Donnie Edwards, retired NFL linebacker and founder of his own charitable group for veterans, The Best Defense. It was Edwards who suggested Baumann start his own foundation so he could serve veterans in whatever way he wanted.

Baumann’s partner is Frank Susskey, a Life Flight pilot, having retired as a helicopter pilot who served 25 years with the Marines, Army and Coast Guard.

“This is just a small way where several of us can give back,” Susskey said. “If we make one veteran smile one day out of the year, that’s one more than there was before.”

A few years ago, Baumann met Harry “Pete” Shaw, a WWII veteran who turned 97 this year. One day Baumann and his friends asked Pete what he’d like to do, and Pete said, “Go hunting.”

Not knowing how on earth Pete would climb into a tree stand, the men set about building a deer blind on the ground with stairs. As they were out in the woods, along came the game wardens, who wondered what the men were up to. When they learned what was happening, they wanted to get involved.

“At first, we paid for everything out of our own pockets,” Baumann said.

Twyla McCartney, manager at First Federal Community Bank in New Philadelphia, spread the word, and the Elks called.

Tracy Ruggeri is the director of veterans programs at the New Philadelphia Elks Lodge, where VOA recently held a volunteer appreciation dinner.

“The Elks is largely a charitable organization,” Ruggeri said. “We’re happy to provide anything we can for our veterans. Through the Elks’ donations, VOA is able to outfit the deer stands with some of the comforts of home including windows, carpeting and heat.”

“Next thing you know, Lowe’s called,” Baumann said.

He said Bill Sandy, the manager, told him to give them a wish list and they’d fund it all.

The Lowe’s in New Philadelphia not only provides all the building materials needed, but also sends volunteer employees to help with the work.

“We really stepped it up when they jumped on board,” Baumann said.

Jared Ropp, assistant manager at Lowe’s, said, “This was our opportunity to give back to a group of people who, we feel, could benefit from it. It’s always a treat to work with veterans groups.”

Some of the regular volunteers from Lowe’s include John and Austin McMullen, Melissa Dewey, Ashley Bixler, and Brandon Milburn.

“I have the utmost respect for anybody that is in or ever has been in the military,” John McMullen said. “And I will stand up for them every day of the week.”

“I don’t feel like there’s enough done for veterans,” Milburn said. “They deserve a lot more.”

Baumann’s friend, Fred Siegenthaler, the manager of a Longhorn Steakhouse in Canton, has even pitched in by coming onsite and grilling steaks for the work crews.

The heart of the
foundation

“Eric Dyrlund and Jason Brown are the heart of the foundation,” Baumann said, referring to two Canton firefighters who volunteer for the group.

Dyrlund and Brown design the stands and do the early prep work, saving time once the crew is onsite. “You can tell they’re really grateful and happy to have the stands,” Dyrlund said. “I can’t describe how happy I am for them. There’s no way we can give back enough for what they’ve given us.”

The recipients

“I was the guinea pig,” Shaw said about being the first to receive a deer stand. “Mine has a recliner.”

Robert Fulton is another vet who appreciates what VOA has done for him. “I used to sit out on my four-wheeler in all kinds of weather,” he said. “Not anymore. Mine has carpeting, a gas heater, a swivel chair and windows on all sides. They even put a plaque on the door that says, ‘This is dedicated to Robert Fulton, 2nd Class Radar Man, U.S. Navy, Vietnam Veteran.’ I sat in it every day of deer season last year, and I got a deer with my muzzle loader.”

The most recent stand built by VOA was for John Smith in Salineville. “He told us he had to quit hunting because he just couldn’t take the cold anymore,” Baumann said.

Baumann and Susskey said they are looking for additional ways to help veterans. “If we can get them out fishing or something else they enjoy doing in the outdoors so they’re not cooped up inside, I think that helps them.”

In the end the guys at VOA sacrifice quite a bit of time and energy, but after all, it’s for those who have sacrificed the most.