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Serving up memories, USO-style

Volunteers in Eastern Henrico assist military members today as they did years ago

Imagine being a 16-year-old girl in 1943.

Songs by the Andrew Sisters blared from the radio. The jitterbug was the dance craze. And with the U.S. in World War II, thousands of young men and women were being trained at Richmond Air Base near Sandston.

As USO World marks its 70th anniversary this year, Ada Chinn, 84, and Margie Winter, 83, recall volunteering at Sandston’s USO Club, which was dedicated June 20, 1943.

“All the guys loved ping pong,” said Chinn, who spent hours at the J.B. Finley Road building. “They had Chinese checkers and regular checkers. They had a game room set up and they would need people to play with them.”

Occasionally Chinn and some of the other girls performed skits. Once they donned top hats and tap shoes and performed at the USO Club.

On Saturday nights the jitterbug was the dance of choice.

“I loved to dance. We had a ball,” said Winter as she sat in the renovated building’s main hall last month. “They had a band. It was packed when I came to the dances.”

She recalled that girls also came from Highland Springs and Montrose to the building that now houses the Sandston Recreation Center.

Chinn and Winter said the USO Club was one way Sandston residents helped the war effort. Some families also provided room and board for soldiers. Women did mending for them. Everyone lined Williamsburg Road to wave when military convoys passed through town.

Winter and Chinn had older brothers fighting in the war. Even as teens the girls said they understood their role as USO volunteers.

Many of the men passing through Sandston were almost as young as the girls. They were away from home for the first time and were headed off to fight not knowing if they’d come home.

“After they left here, they went overseas. Your idea was if you could help while they were away from home to have a night of fun [you should],” Winter said.

Almost 70 years later and less than three miles away from the old Sandston USO Club, 200 USO volunteers now help military men and women at the Richmond International Airport.

The USO center opened there last July and is one of 11 in the Hampton Roads Central Virginia area. Since opening, about 2,000 Armed Forces members, their dependents, and military retirees have been served each month at the RIC USO. The center expects to serve as many as 3,000 a month in the year ahead.

There aren’t any Saturday night dances at this USO; however, volunteers there offer what Peggy Reid calls southern hospitality.

The center has rows of large comfortable leather chairs, two big screen televisions, a bank of computers and a kitchenette where volunteers can prepare snacks.

“We’re thrilled to death when they want to eat something because we like to fix them food like mamas would do,” said Reid, who has volunteered at the center since it opened. “We find some of them want to talk. I’ve had them hang on the counter up there and just talk and talk and talk. And we always enjoy that.”

Betty Burgess also has volunteered at the RIC USO center since July. She said the time she’s spent there has helped her discover some good news about the next generation.

“A lot of times you hear, ‘I don’t know what our young people are coming to.’ That is definitely not the case,” Burgess said. “It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience for me to be around these young people. They are polite, well-versed and intelligent.”

Dan Rose, a Vietnam veteran, who has volunteered at the center since September, said he does so for a number of reasons. One is especially close to his heart.

He met his wife, Pam, in 1966 at a USO Club in Trenton, N.J. It was her first day there as a volunteer.

“We met the third of February, 1966, engaged in April and married in June,” Rose said. His wife also volunteers at the RIC USO.

While the faces of the volunteers have changed since the days of the Sandston USO Club, the sentiment of the volunteers hasn’t changed.

“We want to show them a little love before they head off somewhere else and hope they have good memories,” Reid said.

For more information about the Central Virginia USO, visit http://www.usohr.com .

To read more articles by Sundra Hominik, visit http://shominik.wordpress.com


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Do the Bunny Hop over to Meadow Farm on Saturday for an introduction to all the farm animals there! An introduction to “Global Sounds” – featuring Japanese, Indonesian, West African, Indian, and Brazilian music and dance performances – can be found at the University of Richmond. The University of Richmond will also host the annual Spider spring game, as well as the inaugural Spiders Easter Egg Hunt. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

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Enjoy a twilight canoe trip on Four Mile Creek, a quiet tributary of the James River, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Look for great blue herons, osprey, beaver, deer… Full text

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