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july/august 2009

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On behalf of the membership of Region 3, it is my pleasure to welcome everyone to the state of Kentucky for the 14th Biennial National Convention being held in Louisville, July 27-August 2.

Your attendance at the Convention will consist of long days and short nights as you decide the direction VVA will take over the next two years. But during any relaxed time, before, during, and after the Convention, you’ll find the sights and sounds of Louisville to be worth your time.

We look forward to your visit and hope that your stay in the Bluegrass State is an enjoyable one.

When you arrive in Louisville for VVA’s 14th biennial National Convention, you’ll officially be in the state  of Kentucky. But if you tune in to a local TV or radio station, you may hear the area referred to as “Kentuckiana.” You’re not hearing things; that’s the term widely used for the greater Louisville area, which includes the surrounding counties, cities, and towns, including those just across the Ohio River in Southern Indiana.

Kentuckiana is the 42nd largest metropolitan area in the nation, with a population of some 1.4 million people. It is the home to VVA Kentuckiana Chapter 454, which is hosting the National Convention. Led by President Robert Keller, the chapter is one of VVA’s most active. Darrel Martin, the Kentucky State Council President, is a member.

We asked Keller and the Chapter 454 members to recommend their favorite attractions in their town—places that visiting VVA delegates, AVVA members, family, and friends might enjoy during Convention downtime. Here’s what they came up with:

4TH STREET LIVE: Located within easy walking distance of the Galt House, the Convention’s hotel, at South 4th Street between Liberty Street and Muhammad Ali (a Louisville native) Avenue, this huge dining, entertainment, and retail area is open seven days a week. Aside from restaurants and retail stores, 4th Street Live features a wide variety of entertainment, including live band concerts, the Improv Comedy Club, night clubs, and bars.

Among the restaurants are TGI-Fridays, the Hard Rock Café, Joe’s Crab Shack, Red Star Tavern, J. Gumbo’s, and the world’s first Maker’s Mark Bourbon House & Lounge. There’s also a food court with the usual staples, as well as bars and nightclubs, including Tengo Sed Cantina, Angel’s RockBar, Saddle Ridge, and Sully’s. Live music is featured nightly at Howl at the Moon.

THE GALT HOUSE, which overlooks the Ohio River, is another downtown attraction. Among its amenities are the newly renovated Great Lawn and the adjacent Riverfront Belvedere. At the river at Waterfront Park, there is the only surviving Ohio River steamboat, the 95-year-old Belle of Louisville, which is a National Historic Landmark, along with the riverboat Spirit of Jefferson. The Belle of Louisville, which holds 750 passengers, and the 150-passenger Spirit of Jefferson (built in 1963) offer cruises on the Ohio River. The vessels are owned and operated by the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government.

Local eateries within walking distance of the Galt House that Chapter 454 members recommend include the Spaghetti Factory and Bearno’s Pizza.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS: There is legal gambling at the newly renovated Horseshoe Casino, which is a 20-minute drive from the Galt House on the Indiana side of the Ohio River. VVA members with younger children can visit the nearby Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom amusement part, a short drive up I-65 from the hotel.

There also are several downtown museums, including the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory at 800 W. Main Street. The Frazier International History Museum at 829 W. Main Street offers a host of historical armaments on display, live re-enactments, as well as tours. And then there’s the Kentucky Derby Museum, a short drive from the Galt House at 704 Central Avenue on the front steps of historic Churchill Downs. Chapter members will be available at the Galt House to answer questions, give directions, make suggestions, and help delegates get the most out of Louisville.

VVA Chapter 454, the host chapter for the 2009 National Convention, was born at a meeting of a small group of Vietnam veterans in the late winter of 1988. The following year, the chapter received its official VVA charter and began operations as Kentuckiana Chapter 454 with four officers and about two dozen members. The chapter has grown today into VVA’s largest Kentucky chapter, with about 125 members. It also is one of VVA’s most active chapters.

“As a newly formed VVA chapter, we were committed to insuring that the image of the Vietnam veteran would best be served if we had an active role in the community,” Chapter President Robert Keller said recently.

One of the first things the chapter did to get things rolling was to publish a monthly newsletter, the Nam Gram. “We are proud to note that since our founding we have issued the newsletter every month, with only a few exceptions,” Keller said. “The newsletter was our largest expense and consumed a large part of our budget. But it was vital that it continue, and it became instrumental in the growth of the chapter. It is now printed without cost by a local publishing house, with only the postage cost being borne by the chapter.”

The Chapter 454 Color Guard made its first appearance in the fall of 1989 at the biggest high-school football game in the area (and one of the biggest in the nation), between St. Xavier and Trinity, before some 15,000 people at the old Cardinal Stadium. “We are pleased to report that this service continues,” Keller said. “This fall’s football classic will be the Color Guard’s 20th appearance. We expect a crowd of over 35,000 at the new Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium at the University of Louisville.”?I That was just the start of Chapter 454’s many and varied “In Service to America” activities. Among other things, the chapter

- has, since 2007, offered an annual Scholarship Program for graduating seniors at local high schools; in 2009, the chapter awarded $3,500 in scholarships to four students.

- strongly supports the Louisville VA Medical Center, with chapter members working an average of 65 volunteer hours a month, primarily helping with the hospital escort service

- has an extremely active Honor Guard

- has, since 1992, hosted the annual Memorial Day ceremonies and the September Candlelight service at “The Final L.Z.,” the  monument to Vietnam veterans at Highland Memorial Gardens in nearby Mount Washington, Kentucky. The chapter was instrumental in getting the memorial built in 1992

- pays monthly visits to the Bashford East Nursing Home in Louisville, which has a high percentage of veteran-residents

- took over, in 2007, a program (formerly sponsored by the American Legion) of monthly visits to the Louisville Vet Center where chapter members host a bingo and birthday party

- pays monthly visits to patients at the VA Medical Center and has donated more than $1,000 to the VAMC to cover the cost of American flags, shelving units, a hospice room at the hospital, and an organist for the VA Chaplain Service

- makes quarterly visits to the Pike Street Clinic in Covington, Kentucky, a homeless shelter that the chapter also supports financially and with donations of clothing and toiletries

- plays an integral role in the annual local Operation Standdown run by the Louisville VA Medical Center, helping dispense clothing, blankets, and toiletries to homeless veterans

- hosted the VVA 2006 National Leadership Conference in Louisville, three VVA Region 3 Conferences, and several VVA Kentucky State Council Conferences

- took part in VVA’s November 10, 2007, parade in Washington commemorating the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


As is the case with most chapters, Kentuckiana Chapter 454 has tried many fundraising schemes. But the one that works best is the monthly breakfast. Prior to each monthly meeting, the chapter hosts an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast that is open to the public.

For seven bucks, diners chow down on bacon, sausage, ham, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, sweet rolls, and fruit cocktail. Sometimes other items, such as pancakes and syrup or country ham, are donated.

At the beginning, all the food was donated by chapter members. But now that the monthly breakfast has become a big success, members’ expenses are reimbursed. While our monthly average net income is about $200-225, sometimes we’ve earned well over $500. Begun in 2000, the breakfasts have become the chapter’s principal revenue source, exceeding the revenue of all other fundraising events.

Members assemble before 7 a.m. to fry bacon and sausage, perk coffee, and prepare the other food, and they continue till late morning. Members receive no pay, and the local American Legion post lets us use its kitchen. The chapter provides all supplies, including plates and cutlery.

In addition, we host a 50/50 raffle. At most breakfasts we are privileged to host Robley Rex, Kentucky’s oldest living veteran. Profits from the breakfasts fund the chapter’s projects.


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