A little wind and rain — AKA, the burgeoning Tropical Storm Eta — would simply not be enough to stop the Rotary Club of Longboat Key from celebrating the island’s veterans on Nov. 11.
The club had planned a “pandemic-sensitive” event for the morning of Veterans Day to acknowledge the community’s service members in an outdoor, drive-through event. Originally, the plan was to have veterans and their families drive through, and they could stop and chat with other veterans and friends as long as everyone wore masks and stayed socially distant.
“We’re glad to be soldiering on in the rain,” Rotary member Susan Veshosky said.
The small group of volunteers stayed at the circle drive on Bay Isles Road as the rain came down and wind threatened to uproot the flags of the branches of the military (there was even one for the newly formed Space Force).
Members clutched small American flags and the red, white and blue “VETERAN” car magnet they were passing out and held tight to the poles of the flags and the hoods of their rain jackets. Dale Hooey, organist for All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church, played the songs of the branches of service over the church’s outdoor speakers, but the music could not always be heard well over the wind and rain.
“What really matters is that veterans understand through our actions that we respect and appreciate them answering the call to arms,” Rotary event coordinator Scott Wuesthoff said.
The Veterans Day celebration isn’t something the Rotary Club would give up on easily, and certainly just not for some wind and rain. The 2020 version, soggy and limited as it was, was the seventh annual event and grew from a simple luncheon to an event that drew a couple hundred veterans and their families to Christ Church of Longboat Key in 2019 for a ceremony for Vietnam War veterans.
Even during the pandemic, the club tried to get the community involved in what aspects they could. On Nov. 10, several Rotary members went to Bay Isles Road to set up small American flags, similar to Fourth of July or what the town does on Sept. 11. Even through the storm the next day, the flags stayed flying.
“Our team was jazzed as they set up the flags with motorists honking as they drove by,” Wuesthoff said.
As for the actual Nov. 11 event, Rotary member Nancy Rozance said eight total veterans came by, and none of them stayed long. When folks did drive up, they were greeted with a group of enthusiastic, masked Rotary members eager to pass on their thanks.
“I am delighted our chapter pressed forward like warriors in wind and rain to express their gratitude for our veterans,” Rotary President Brad Marner said. “Taking the time to pause, recognize and reflect is what it’s all about.”