By KYLIE POWERS
Saint Rose recently held a formal ceremony for the dedication and opening of the Veteran’s Center.
The event began on Friday, Nov. 6 with a dedication ceremony hosted in the Thelma P. Lally School of Education in the Touhey Forum. Guests were invited to look at displays and photos of the college’s past veterans before the actual ceremony began.
Veteran students and their families and friends were in attendance. Other notables in attendance included President Stefanco, who gave the opening greetings, Honorable Kathy Sheehan, mayor of the city of Albany, Honorable Daniel McCoy, Albany county executive, Colonel Eric J. Hesse, director of the NYS division of Veteran’s affairs, and many others.
“The air in the building was electric on such a joyous occasion. So many people were there to support the endeavor we’ve started. The guests seemed excited to be there and happy that we have been making such a big splash at the school,” said Mike Harris, a Marine veteran and treasurer of the Student Veteran’s Association. “It was definitely something to remember.”
The Veteran’s Center, now filling the newly-improved Casey Hall, was granted to give veterans attending Saint Rose a place on campus for them to connect with one another and to help further their experience at Saint Rose.
Before the event, Touhey Forum was abuzz with people filing in; alumni, veterans and their families, and even camera crews setting up to record the event.
The ceremony dedicating the Veteran’s Center began at 1 p.m. in the Touhey Forum, with the posting of the colors by the Tri-County Council of Vietnam Era Veterans. The Girls Next Door, the Saint Rose all-female a capella group, led the national anthem and the invocation was conducted by Sister Marguerite Donovan.
After the invocation, and the presentation of the master of ceremonies Ian Farrell, the vice president for institutional advancement, President Stefanco began the greetings. She thanked veterans for their service and their positive influence on student life here at Saint Rose.
The keynote speaker was Colonel Micheal J. Barcomb, a member of the Saint Rose graduating class of 1987. After Saint Rose, he was a platoon leader and Fort Devins Project Officer, as well as a veteran serving in Afghanistan. Barcomb congratulated the veterans sitting in the audience and encouraged them to continue their service at Saint Rose to helping one another and others in their communities.
The Veteran’s Center was made partially possible by grants from veterans assistance programs like NYSID (New York State Industries for the Disabled, Incorporated.) NYSID, established in 1975, originally began as a program to help disabled people all over New York State, but later became affiliated with veterans and wanted to provide support to veterans programs.
Representatives from NYSID were at the Veteran’s Center ceremony to provide them with a representation of the $10,000 grant given to them for the Casey Hall renovations. They also provided them with a Battle Buddies plaque for the Veteran’s Center in reminder of the NYSID affiliated group.
After a letter from Governor Cuomo to the veterans was read by Eric J. Hesse, Elizabeth O’Connor Little of the New York State Senate 45th District addressed the veterans and wished them peace for the new center, in hope it will be a peaceful, resourceful area for the veterans to work, hang out, and provide guidance and encouragement to one another.
Corporal Shawn Sutton, a current Saint Rose student and member of the class of 2017 and the veteran of two combat tours with the Marines in Afghanistan, was more than happy to talk about the Veteran’s Center and its creation as well. Sutton is also the president of The College of Saint Rose Student Veterans Association.
He described the pride he felt as he saw veterans stepping up to the plate this fall semester and volunteering in the community. He applauded the veterans, not only for the hard work they put into renovating and cleaning up Casey Hall, but also for taking extra weekends for volunteering in the community and organizing things like food drives. Sutton is also the President of the Saint Rose Chapter of Student Veterans of America.
The event closed with the retiring of the colors, a musical procession on the bagpipes by Saint Rose student Stacia Burns, and the procession that led to the Veteran’s Center at Casey Hall on Madison Avenue. People crowded around the side balcony to catch a glimpse as President Stefanco, Corporal Sutton, and others cut the ribbon to officially open the Center.
The procession continued with a blessing by Edward Scharfenberger, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, and a dessert reception and tours of the hall continued inside.
Saint Rose has had a history of working with veterans since the age of the post-World War II GI Bill. Initially, as Saint Rose was originally a college for women, classes at night were offered to male veterans so they could go to work during the day.
Eventually, during the 1970s when the school became coeducational, more veterans began to come to Saint Rose and became leaders among their fellow students. As of today, 157 veterans and children of veterans attend Saint Rose.
“Many of our school’s veterans and family members are commuters. Having this space means that we have a place for them to feel comfortable enough to stay on campus when they have blocks of time in-between classes,” Harris said.
Casey Hall is located at 967 Madison Avenue and will provide a quiet space for veterans and their families to work on computers, relax, and provide information on available benefits. It will also be a welcoming home for future veterans looking to attend Saint Rose as a place that fosters veteran’s connection to each other while they encourage one another as they continue their education at Saint Rose.
“It’s our pride and joy,” said Jamie Smedstad. “Because of the center, my retired navy husband is considering going to school at Saint Rose.”
Smedstad is “the coordinator for the work study program for the veterans at the center. For the last six weeks our primary job has been getting the center ready for public viewing.”
She moved her family of seven to the Albany area this past August from Virginia and claims it was one of the best decisions of her life. Her entire family was on hand on Friday to celebrate the dedication.
In addition to the center in Casey Hall, the veterans will be featured in a Saint Rose blog written by Harris. He plans to post updates every two weeks. The group also held a podcast on Monday, Nov. 9.
“We want veterans to know that if they come to Saint Rose, we will see them through a successful military-to-civilian transition,” said Carolyn Stefanco, the College president. “They have served their country, and it is part of our mission to support them and their families.”