There are a handful of unsung heroes here at the Rehab Center with a rare and noble courage. Some have done double-duty in military service and firefighting. With the deepest appreciation, the ReHab Center thanks all of you for your service to our country and your community.
Leadership in the Marines
Steve Gonska, who works in the agency’s maintenance Department, always wanted his life to make a difference, and he has been successful at that. After graduating from high school, he went directly into the Marine Corps Boot Camp. Next, he was deployed to Iraq, which has left an indelible mark on him.
“I wanted to serve my country,” he said, and ”I wanted to be a leader and not a follower. Going into the service gave me better skills to be a leader.”
After he returned from the service, he decided to join a fire department and serve the community. He has served as a volunteer firefighter for 10 years.
“I started by serving my country, but when that journey ended, I wasn’t satisfied that I had done enough. So, I joined the Westons Mills Fire Department, “ he said. “Everyone knows them. They have lime green/yellow fire trucks.”
Being a firefighter was also a way to debrief from the intensity of combat and allowed him to continue the service which gives a deeper meaning to his life.
“In many ways, firefighting is like going into battle,” Steve said. “It’s a battle of a different kind. When you’re in combat you don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s kind of along the same lines with a fire. You don’t know what’s behind that door or on the other side of that wall. There’s a surprise around every corner.”
Steve has worked for the ReHab Center for six years, is married to Amy and have two beautiful children. His service to his country, his community and his family has made a priceless difference. He clearly has succeeded in being a leader who is making a difference through his service to others.
Cruising the Caribbean as war clouds gathered on horizon
Chuck Tyler was only 17 when he set sail to the high seas for the adventure of a lifetime. He joined the Marines in 1959 and served until 1963.
While his service was during the Cold War and between wars, it was not without international tensions. He was stationed on the U.S.S. Boxer for two years during which he participated in eight cruises in the Caribbean.
During that time, the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened the free world with a possible nuclear launch by Russia from San Cristobal, Cuba. After the failed attempt by the U.S. to overthrow the Castro regime, the Soviet Union constructed missile sites to deter any future U.S. invasions.
After discovering nuclear missile sites were under construction, on October 22, 1962 President Kennedy demanded the Soviet Union remove them. The nation held its breath
awaiting a truce between the two nuclear-armed nations. Finally, on October 28 both countries agreed to back down.
During that time, Chuck was on the U.S.S. Boxer cruising the Caribbean with a ship full of Marines ready to storm the beaches of Cuba.
“During the Cuba Missile Crisis we were just south of Cuba, loaded with all these Marines who were trained and ready to play war games in Cuba,” Chuck said, adding, “I was aware the U.S. was more prepared for whatever might happen than a lot of people realize. We were prepared to go into Cuba and evacuate our military should that be necessary.”
Thankfully, it wasn’t.
“Today, the U.S. is just as prepared, much more than people realize,” he said.
In 1964, after he finished his four years, Chuck returned home, got married, and moved to California where his son and daughter were born. Later, the family moved to Indiana for a couple years before returning to Humphrey where they settled down as he worked at then Dresser-Clark for the next 22 years.
His father and son were both also Marines. His father served during World War II in the Pacific, and his son served during the Persian Gulf War, but sadly lost his life in a helicopter crash in 1985.
When Chuck’s wife died in 2006, he slipped into a deep, dark depression, and remained alone at home for well over a year. After he began coming to the Linwood Center, he got his life back.
“Now, everything is better because of Linwood. This place helps a lot of people more than anyone realizes. You have to associate with other people to be mentally intact,” he said, smiling as he headed back into the bright cheerful room full of his friends waiting for him to play Bingo.
Out of the Air Force into the Fire Department
When Raymond Limerick and a buddy decided to join the Air Force together in 1955, they couldn’t have imagined the challenge of basic training in Central New York in deep winter.
“We did basic training in February at the Geneva Air Force base,” he said, recalling the bitter cold of that first winter, reminiscent of the legendary February winter at Valley Forge in 1777.
“It was very cold. There was snow coming through the cracks in the barracks,” he said.
Originally, he’d hoped to be a medical technician. But, after more than a month waiting for his orders, it turned out the Air Force had other plans for the two men.
“I was sent to the Air Force Academy in Denver for electronics training,” he said. “We were there for 34 weeks. I learned electronics and worked as a technician on the flight simulator.”
After he graduated from the Air Force Academy, he worked in various places including Long Island. In 1959, four years and one month after he signed up, Raymond retired with the rank of sergeant.
He returned home to Olean, married, and went to work at the Tile Plant.
But the spirit of service lingered in the heart of the young man now fresh out of the service. Raymond decided to take the Social Service test to be a firefighter.
While his time in the Air Force had not brought him into active duty or sent him into cross fire, he spent the next 34 years of his post military life doing just that.
Ray served as a firefighter for the City of Olean until 1993 when he retired.
“It’s a long time to be retired,” he said, adding he enjoys the time he spends with his friends at the Linwood Center. “I enjoy the games and the people. It’s a great place. We all have a lot in common.”
The Linwood Center is an adult day service program sponsored by the ReHabilitation Center for adults over age 60 who require additional support in order to remain independent in their homes. Services include breakfast and lunch, mind stimulating activities, socialization, and assistance with personal care and case management. These services promote an improved quality of life while providing support, respite and guidance to family members and caregivers. Nancy Ogden is supervisor of the Linwood Center, located in the Center’s Allegany site on Nine Mile Rd., Allegany.
In the air, over the sea, and on a bus . . .
recalling their years in and out of the service
Cliff Lowe, Bernie Lyaski and Jack Peters share military experiences
at a weekly Veteran’s Group led by Patty Blue at the YMCA.
In the hope he could join his older brother in the 101 st Army Airborne division during Vietnam, Cliff told his mom one morning he was going to enlist. Fully expecting to see his brother soon, he took the long bus ride from Ishua up to Buffalo to enlist in the Army.
“But, when they found out that my brother was already in the Army, as the only other son, they sent me home,” he said. “I was really disappointed. I wanted to enlist.”
When he returned home later that day, his mother didn’t believe him. She called the draft and discovered he was right. His brother spent the next 30 years in the Army while Cliff stayed in Ishua.
“I built a house within 100 feet from my family home,” he said.
While Cliff would have liked to serve his country in the military, he accepts it wasn’t his destiny. But, his willingness to serve puts him in good stead with his friends in the YMCA Wednesday afternoon men’s group, many of whom are veterans. The group is led by Patty Blue, the Agency’s behavioral health care coordinator on location at the YMCA.
His friends, Bernie Lyaski and Jack Peters, both of whom were in the military between Korean and Vietnam wars, did not experience actual combat duty.
“I was in from 1953 – 57 at the tail end of Korea,” Bernie said, wearing his Navy USS Newport News hat, and adding the USS Newport News was stationed out of Norfolk, Va.
“I was an electrician’s mate and got out just under four years,” he said, adding his ship cruised through Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean, Dardanelles, Caribbean, and Panama Canal each year.
“We had the same schedule each year,” he said, adding he looked forward to spring when the ship was in the Caribbean.
Jack enlisted in the Air Force during the end of the Korean War in 1951 and served until 1955.
“I was busy installing radar sites,” he said, adding, “After that, I was part of the Atomic Energy Commission.”
After their years in the service, both Bernie and Jack returned home to Olean and went to work at Dresser- Clark, where they worked for more than 40 years. They’ve been retired more than 20 years and enjoy the opportunity the group offers them to talk about their lifetime experiences.
“Both men had worked together at Dresser and never realized they were both coming here to the Y,” Patty said, adding she began the group soon after she began working as a behavioral health care coordinator for the YMCA and ReHab Center. “This was a great way for them to reconnect.”
The Rehab Center is grateful to all veterans, and especially some of our own men and women who were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice.