Earlier this summer, Marian Rytkonen, a 99-year-old World War II veteran, faced eviction from her home at the Oaks at Post Road after issues with the Department of Veterans Services stopped her from receiving her benefits.
After news articles, more than $9,000 donated by more than 200 individuals both in and outside Forsyth County and responses from elected officials, the issue was sorted out for Rytkonen, and this week, a congressman representing Forsyth County stopped by the Oaks to celebrate veterans and see if any others were facing similar hardships.
On Friday, Rep. Rob Woodall, who represents Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, stopped by The Oaks at Post Road to talk with those that lived there and read a roll call to recognize those who served in the armed forces and their families.
“Just this small congregation here in little old Forsyth County, here in little old Georgia, when we started putting together the names of folks in each one of these families who served, we quickly moved past a platoon level, we quickly moved past company level, we’ve got battalions of folks here who have been involved in service to this country,” Woodall said.
Woodall was instrumental in helping Rytkonen get her issues settled and said lawmakers should not be in the “failure mitigation business.”
“To those of you who are supporting veterans in your family, I hope you will take me at my word when I say you don’t do your elected official any injustice by calling him and sharing your problem. You’re doing him a great favor,” he said. “The only reason I have this job is to be the voice of this community.”
When a veteran or their family raises an issue, Woodall said it is unlikely they are the only ones affected by it.
“To the family members, I’ll tell you, the biggest problem that I have with veterans in this community is they spend a lifetime giving and not taking. Folks don’t want to call for help,” Woodall said. “What I get to see and you might not see as a serviceman or woman of a family member, is that if we fix it for your family, we might have just fixed it for a thousand other families too.”
Friday’s ceremony came complete with a first responder honor guard presenting the U.S. and Georgia flags and musicians, including a bagpipe player, playing patriotic songs, including each branch of the military’s official song and all in attendance singing “the Star-Spangled Banner.”
“This a ceremony to celebrate all who have served their country honorably and without reference to their selves or their families so we can have freedom today,” said Keith Ashley, community relations director at The Oaks at Post Road.
It took Woodall nearly five minutes during his roll call to read the names and branches of all the clients and family members who served in the armed forces.
“That’s not even a complete list of the family members who have served [of clients] right here in this room with us today,” Woodall said.
Kay Thompson, 95, who lives at The Oaks, said her family has a strong military history. Her dad, brother, husband, sons, sons-in-law and grandsons have served. She praised Woodall for coming to talk with veterans and Ashley and others at the center for organizing the event.
“That was very nice,” she said. “Keith does a wonderful job. He really does. He’s very talented and very knowledgeable.”
Alex Salabarria – CEO of The Oaks, which has locations around the state – said during the ceremony that he was “very moved” by the turnout and honoring veterans in the center.
“To see us being able to make a difference in the lives of those who made this opportunity possible for us to live in the most gracious and wonderful and beautiful country in this world,” he said, “I’m honored to be here today and thank you for all you have done for everybody in this country and what you mean to us every day in this community.”