History Note: Disabled American Veterans have provided service for 100 years

We grow great by dreams…. Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they [flourish]; bring them to the sunshine and light, which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true. ~ Woodrow Wilson ~

Chapters of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) had to postpone centennial celebrations and conference in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many chapters are commemorating the DAV’s founding this year.

Minnesota DAV members gathered for their first in-person convention in September, after a year of virtual proceedings.

The DAV was needed after World War I and the return home of many veterans. Some returned without arms or legs. Others were blind, lost hearing or lived with mental illness. A DAV history states:

“Their battle scars told the story of massive, pounding artillery and warfare mechanized to levels no one had ever dreamed possible. Chemical warfare, used extensively during the war, left men with gas-seared lungs, gasping for each breath. Prolonged and chronic illnesses would forever hamper the lives of hundreds of thousands of veterans returning from the horror of rat-filled disease-ridden trenches . More than 4.7 million Americans served, and 53,500 sacrificed their lives in combat. Accidents and illnesses, mostly deadly influenza, took the lives of another 63,000. An astonishing 204,000 Americans in uniform were wounded during the war.”

“Just as the government had not been ready for war, it was poorly prepared to deal with the veterans who returned to our shores after bravely defending the cause of freedom. This was particularly true in the case of those who came home sick and wounded.”

The situation was decried as a national disgrace. The war had sapped the nation’s resources, so veterans came home to a stressed economy. By 1919, one year after the war’s end, more than four million Americans were jobless.

“Not only was the government at a loss about what to do with those it had sent off to war, it had very little to spend on programs for the veterans … In 1919, Congress cut job programs to one-fifth of their original budget. With little money to operate, those programs were doomed to failure. Veterans were on their own to fend for themselves.” Some begged on street corners, holding tin cups.

the DAV got its start at Cincinnati’s Ohio Mechanics Institute, a training school for disabled veterans. A group formed the OMIDS (the DS stood for “disabled soldiers” and began reaching out to better-known veterans with disabilities.

One “celebrity” was Captain Robert S. Marx, who was preparing to take a judgeship. Marx was a decorated disabled veteran and war hero.

The energetic and popular Marx hosted a Christmas Day dinner in 1919 for about 100 disabled Ohio veterans. “They were spending the holidays away from home, recovering from war wounds, and receiving rehabilitation and vocational training.”

Table talk soon turned to how there was need for veterans with disabilities to have voice in government and receive needed services. In early 1920 the Christmas dream became a reality and the Disabled American Veterans of the World War began.

The official DACV founding date is September 25, 1920/. the first national convention s held in Detroit in 1921.

Want to read more DAV and DAV Auxiliary history? The national organization has a well-done chapter history, with many pictures of key people and places. This is excerpted from that story. Go to https://www.dav.org/learn-more/about-dav/history/

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at  www.mnddc.org

What’s also remarkable is that Rise co-founder Chester Tollefson is still here to share memories of the nonprofit’s start.

“[It took] a little concern and a little cooperation. Here we are 50 years later and Rise is still operating,” he said. Tollefson is 98 years old.

Rise began as the family sought a better future for son and brother Loring, who  Loring was born with intellectual disabilities.

When Loring was 16 years old, Chester Tollefson and his wife Gladys started talking about Loring’s future. They wanted him to have positive experiences after high school and were concerned by the absence of options other than Minnesota’s institutional system, which at that time was where many disabled people lived isolated from family, friends and opportunities.

“Loring was a young person who loved to laugh and smile and he loved people. He was stubborn and determined, but he loved to have fun,” his sister Joyce Tollefson-Capp said. “As parents, my mom and dad just wanted a safe place for Loring to be. And Rise provided that. Not only for him, but for multiple generations.”

“There was the institution at Cambridge, but we thought Loring was better physically than to be involved in Cambridge, just sitting and doing nothing. I thought, ‘There’s things he can do,’” said Chester Tollefson.

Anoka County community leaders worked with the family to create an alternative. With their cooperation Rise opened in Spring Lake Park on August 2, 1971,

“He enjoyed having a place to go to work and meet his friends. He just loved the place. It was part of his home,” Chester Tollefson said of Rise.

Loring Tollefson died in 2002. His mother Gladys died in 2013. But the foundation they and other set helped Rise to a successful future.

Read about upcoming special events and find the anniversary videos at https://rise.org/special-events/

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at  www.mnddc.org