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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The weather on Saturday, September 21, was cool and rainy and not the best for a motorcycle ride.
But the American Pride Poker Run, organized by Colfax residents Annie and Rich Jenson in honor of area veterans and to raise money for the veterans’ organization, Vets Fighting 4 Vets, left from the Outhouse Bar that morning on schedule.
The Jensons are the owners of A Little Slice of Italy in Colfax.
The final destination for the motorcycle ride was the American Pride Bar in Stanley.
All together, after expenses, the Poker Run raised $3,150 for Vets Fighting 4 Vets, Rich Jenson said.
The Jensons handed out plaques to the veterans who were honored.
Corporal Reuben C. Knutson of Colfax, U.S. Army, Korean War, was the first to receive a plaque.
After the war, Reuben came back to the Colfax area and worked for the Colfax Cooperative Creamery. In 1963, he married Bonnie Grambow, and together they raised three children, Jeff, Jackie and Jody.
Reuben worked at Sanna Dairy in Menomonie [now known as Conagra, the maker of Swiss Miss cocoa] and had a small hobby farm. In 1997, he retired from Sanna Dairies, Jenson told the crowd assembled at the Outhouse Bar.
“Reuben, I would ask that you accept this plaque as a small token of recognition on behalf of all the vets who fought in Korea,” Jenson said.
Smoky McCoy, who is vice-president of Vets Fighting 4 Vets, spoke about the organization.
Sergeant Tony Falkner, U.S. Army, who fought in Operation Enduring Freedom, is the president of Vets Fighting 4 Vets.
Falkner also was honored with a plaque later in the day.
“Tony was injured during his time in the military,” McCoy said.
“He wanted to still help his brothers and sisters, and he said, ‘How can I do this? How can I do this? I can’t serve my country anymore, but I can serve the veterans of my country.’ So he started this organization, Vets Fighting 4 Vets,” he said.
“Veterans are killing themselves at an outstanding number in America. Twenty-two veterans a day are killing themselves. Just in America alone. That’s unacceptable. And that’s our tagline ’22 is unacceptable.’ We’ve got resources and community members. We do a lot among the communities of the area. Menomonie, Colfax. Wheeler. All the surrounding communities,” he said.
“We try to put veterans with veterans. We have a bike night every Wednesday during the summer, every other Wednesday. We put veterans together with veterans. It doesn’t have to be just veterans. It can be brothers and sisters all together, just supporting one another. We are finding that a veteran who talks to a veteran is way less likely to do something stupid. So that’s our primary mission, to put resources and availability together and find these veterans the help they need,” McCoy said.
“We also do a lot of veteran outreach programs. We travel to Minneapolis, St. Paul. We’re going to branch out to Milwaukee this year. We do rides. We get a lot of money put together. We provide veterans with (things) they need. Homeless veterans,” he said.
“We’ll go to the crappy areas and find these veterans and say, ‘Hey man, let us try to find you some shelter.’ We’re finding that a veteran will not take it. They say, ‘Give it to somebody else. I’m okay.’ Well. You’re not okay. You’re on the street. You’ve got nothing. We provide them with warm clothes, food, whatever we need to get them. Just recently had a veteran (Al Minaker) who passed away in a motorcycle wreck. We had a bike night last Wednesday. The Wednesday prior we did a 50-50 raffle at the Arena Honkey Tonk Bar in Menomonie, and we wound up raising $526 through a 50-50 program. Vets Fighting 4 Vets matched that, plus a little more, and gave it to his wife,” McCoy said.
“We do a lot of good stuff for the community. We want to strive to ‘ Make it better. Make it better. Make it better,’” he said.
Other veterans also were honored and received plaques, including U.S. Army Specialist Christopher J. Larson of Colfax, who served in Germany and in Operation Desert Storm, Jenson said.
Larson served in the military for 11 years all together, including eight months during the Gulf War in Operation Desert Storm
After his service in the military, Larson served his community volunteering as a Colfax firefighter and volunteering with the Colfax Rescue Squad, Jenson said.
Gunnery Sergeant Rick Sweeney of Menomonie, United States Marine Corps, served in Vietnam and also was honored.
Sweeney is a 21-year veteran and retired military, Jenson said.
In addition, John J. Schieber of Portage, who is Anne Jenson’s father, served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and was honored as well, Jenson said.
Schieber was a Sergeant First Class in World War II. He was stationed in multiple countries, including Italy, Germany, Japan and Korea, and served in the military for 21 years, he said.
Dave Zien, who served in Vietnam in the United States Marine Corps, was honored with a “lifetime of achievement” plaque, Jenson said.
In addition to his military service, Zien served as a representative in the Wisconsin Assembly and as a Wisconsin senator.
“A lot of the locals came out to support (the Poker Run). This is going to be annual event. We are planning on doing it again next year,” Jenson said.