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Willing and Abel

• Vietnam Veteran Denny Abel named 2013 Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce

Published: Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 10:52 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 12:17 p.m. CDT
Above left, Denny Abel of Creston, quartermaster for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1797, has been named 2013 Citizen of the Year. Above right, Abel, 20, served in Vietnam as a tank driver for the U.S. Army.

There is no better day for the following announcement.

Today — Veterans Day — the Creston Chamber of Commerce declares the 2013 Citizen of the Year is Denny Abel of Creston — lifelong veteran and current quartermaster for Creston Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1797.

“It’s very fitting for him to receive this honor (today),” said Ellen Gerharz, Creston Chamber of Commerce executive director. “He cares so much about the veterans in this community. He doesn’t care when they served or what branch they served in. If they are a veteran in this community, he’s always been there to help them. I think most people — veteran or not — have had that kind of experience with Denny.”

Abel — a 1967 graduate of Creston High School — served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1970.

Abel arrived in Vietnam in September 1969 as a member of the 17th Cavalry and spent about six months on tank missions. He was involved in more than a-half dozen firefights during those six months.

He was honorably discharged by the military in October 1970, then returned home to southwest Iowa.

Abel worked 34 years at Creston Feed and Grain before partially retiring in 2004.

Since then, he’s dedicated his retired life to helping fellow veterans, “doing whatever is needed, whether it be mental or physical assistance or helping them find a job.”

“Why do I want to give back to them? Because they are part of me,” Abel said. “Once a veteran, always a veteran. I don’t care if they served in a war zone or carried water to the general, they did what the government wanted them to do. At this time in my life, I want to give back to veterans.”

Driving veterans

For the past five years, Abel has volunteered to personally take local veterans from Creston to their out-of-town doctors appointments at veteran hospitals in Omaha and Des Moines. He’s made more than 20 round trips.

“Sometimes they are unable to drive,” Abel said. “Some can’t drive that far or are in too much pain to drive. Sometimes it’s an emergency type of situation. Sometimes they just want company.”

One of the veterans Abel has helped is 42-year-old Chad Schroeder of Creston — a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Desert Storm.

“I’m light sensitive and get migraines easily,” Schroeder said, “especially when I drive. I started getting migraines after getting an anthrax vaccination when in the military. I don’t feel comfortable driving long distances so Denny does it for me. He does so much for me and other veterans. I wish there were 10 Denny Abels.”

But hopefully, Abel and Schroeder won’t always have to drive to Omaha or Des Moines.

Abel, other veterans and Greater Regional Medical Center (GRMC) administrators have been collaborating and exploring bringing a satellite veterans hospital campus to Creston.

“We’ve been working on this with the hospital for almost two years,” Abel said. “You know how the government is, though — they work slowly.”

Abel also assists with other veteran activities including placement of flags on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Flag Day. He’s part of the military honor guard for funerals.

Abel is active in recruiting new members to the VFW. He also assists veterans in obtaining benefits from the state office and VFW.

Freedom Rock

Abel was a key player in fundraising and bringing the Union County Freedom Rock to Creston. The rock costs about $5,000 and will be located at Creston Visitor’s Center, 626 New York Ave.

“Denny has been the leader in fundraising and bringing this Freedom Rock to Creston,” said Bob Jungst, one of seven people who nominated Abel for Creston citizen of the year. “That rock will mean a lot to local veterans because it brings back a lot of memories. Just go up to the rock north of Greenfield. You see a lot of things on that painted rock that happened in real life.”

Abel also helped organize a Freedom Rock placement and flag raising ceremony at Creston Visitor’s Center Thursday. The rock — now in place — is to be painted by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen of Greenfield sometime in 2015.

Hospital volunteer

Abel also volunteers at Greater Regional Medical Center several times per month — helping at the information desk.

“He’s one of those people you just wish you could clone,” said Annette Rice, director of volunteer services at GRMC. “If we had more Dennys, the world would be a better place. He greets our patients and makes them feel worthwhile. He doesn’t speak to them about their illness or injury. He talks to them about everything else, takes them to where they need to go and takes some of their anxiety away.”

Rice said Abel also volunteers for other hospital events like setup for the jewelry sale and open houses.

Abel was nominated for citizen of the year by Patricia Parkins, Jungst, Connie Loomis, Tom Eagan, Dick Anderson, Larry Hicks and Stacey Ray.

Abel will be honored as 2013 Creston Citizen of the Year during the 74th annual Creston Chamber of Commerce banquet and annual meeting beginning 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Supertel Inn and Conference Center in Creston.

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