Three months ago, Ken Chester was working in his Gulf Gate bar, Chester’s Reef, when two men came in for a drink. One of the men had prosthetic legs and was pushing the other man in a wheelchair. After talking with them, Chester discovered that both men had been injured in Iraq, and the man in the wheelchair was unable to be fitted for prosthetics.
“I told them, ‘Well your money’s no good here. Let me buy you a drink,’” he said. “It was a very small thing I could do to show my appreciation, but I wished I could do more.”
The man with the prosthetics explained to Chester that, in fact, he could offer further help. The man in the wheelchair was facing major expenses to remodel his house to make it handicapped accessible, and he hoped Chester would be interested in organizing a fundraiser. Chester agreed, but, unfortunately, he never heard back from either of the men.
“By that time I was hooked on the idea of helping,” he said. “I also realized that we spend a lot of time talking about the soldiers today, as we should, but some of soldiers of yesterday seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle — especially Vietnam vets.”
Chester wanted to organize an event in which the community could express its appreciation for all veterans, so he came up with Veterans Appreciation Day.
“This will allow Sarasota to stand up and cheer for its veterans,” said Chester. “This is about trying to give a big ‘thank you’ from all of us to all of those who have served over the years. Some of them have never been appropriately given thanks by us, who’ve reaped the benefits.”
This Saturday, Oct. 13, Chester will host Veterans Appreciation Day in front of Chester’s Reef in Gulf Gate. The event will have a block-party feel, featuring live music, food and raffle prizes donated by local businesses. All proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit the Wounded Warriors project, which provides programs to honor and assist veterans who’ve been injured in the line of duty.
“People have really stepped up to help donate things,” said Chester. “I’m overwhelmed. My hope is that our veterans will walk away from this realizing how appreciated they really are.”
IF YOU GO
Veterans Appreciation Day — takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, at Chester’s Reef, 6523 Gateway Ave. Call 922-4066.