Dawn Fisher has a special place in her heart for veterans. For the past 21 years, that care has manifested in physical hearts drawn or stuck onto paper in the form of Valentine’s Day cards.
Fisher, owner and president of Fisher Funeral Chapel, has spearheaded an effort to distribute valentines to local veterans in nursing homes and assisted living since 2002. Each year, she collects hundreds of cards made by schoolchildren, 4-H members, church groups and a wide variety of other organizations to deliver to the veterans.
“I always thought it was a really neat idea that Ann Landers came up with to send valentines to hospitalized veterans,” she said. “She started that in her column, and that’s where I first found out about it. After 9/11, there was such a surge of patriotism. People wanted to do something, so we did Valentines for Vets.”
During the program’s first year, Fisher collected over 10,000 cards. That year she also included military members and first responders from departments that were at the scene on 9/11.
“We included the police and fire departments in New York City and in the Pentagon as well as the military that were serving overseas in Operation Enduring Freedom,” she said. “We made little bags up for the veterans who were in nursing homes or who were homebound. Since that time, we added breakfast every year at Bullshipper’s for the Cass County Honor Guard men and ladies that help with giving the final honors to veterans when they pass away.”
Fisher usually delivers valentines to about 70 veterans and 10 to 12 Cass County Honor Guard members. She calls ahead of time to Woodbridge Health Campus, Chase Center Rehabilitation and Nursing Services, Pleasant Escape Senior Living and other assisted living facilities and programs to see how many veterans they serve.
She also delivers valentines to veterans who are homebound if someone makes her aware of their situation. She said she knows how difficult certain holidays can be for people who have lost family and loved ones.
“Valentine’s Day can be a lonely day if you’ve outlived your sweetheart,” she said. “I didn’t want anybody to feel like they were alone. I wanted them to know that we care and there are people out there that appreciate their service.”
Lynn Korniak, the youth extension educator at Purdue Extension Cass County, said Valentines for Vets is a great way for people to get involved in the community. She has seen that firsthand through the 4-H Junior Leaders, who make valentines during their annual bowling meeting. The kids made 48 valentines this year.
“Watching the teens recognize the contributions of the veterans is really neat to see,” Korniak said. “Plus, they know what it feels like when the veterans receive the valentines and how much joy that will bring to them. I think that’s very significant to remember the veterans in the community.”
Fisher’s daughter Sarah, a second grade teacher at Landis Elementary School, has made Valentine’s Day cards with her students for three years. She said it ties in well with social studies, and she is able to refresh information her students learned on Veteran’s Day.
“The kids get really excited when they know they’re going to make someone else’s day and show that they’re proud of them and they’re thankful for them,” she said. “When it comes to making the valentines, I kind of give the kids creative freedom. For some of my students, I give them coloring pages to color and then they add a little note. Each year it’s been a little different.”
Sarah Fisher carves out a day for making Valentine’s Day cards, but she allows her students to make more valentines whenever they finish their work early. She said her class tends to make about 200 valentines each year.
“They get super into it, and it allows them to create more than just what we do in one day,” she said. “It’s really neat to see how many they make. I think it teaches them more about showing patriotism and respect for the people who’ve served for us. It also gets them involved in the community and realizing we’re all part of this nation. It’s neat seeing how excited they become, how kind their hearts are, and the creativity in their words.”
Sarah Fisher highly encourages local residents to take some time out to make a few valentines. She added that other classes at her school have joined in making valentines, but she would love to see even more people drop off cards.
“I don’t think people realize how much work my mom Dawn has put into it and how involved the whole community can get,” she said. “I think it’d be cool to be able to draw in more people and get them more involved.”
Anyone interested in donating Valentine’s Day cards or supplies for gift bags should drop them off at Fisher Funeral Chapel by 5 p.m. Feb. 13. Fisher said she also encourages people to deliver valentines for local law enforcement and first responders, but she asked that those be separated from the cards for veterans so they go to the right place.
Fisher said the veterans really enjoy hearing from people and reading handwritten letters thanking them for their service. She always encourages people to say “thank you” to veterans, especially because that is something she was never able to say directly to her own father.
“My dad died when I was in high school, and I never thought he’d be gone that soon,” she said. “I never really said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ He was in the Korean War and he was a Presidential Unit Citation recipient. This is my way of saying, ‘Thanks, dad.'”
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