Henrico County VA
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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

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

New Italian restaurant opens in Short Pump

Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.

Henrico native to appear on Travel Channel show


A Henrico native will appear on the third episode of the Travel Channel's new grilling competition series “American Grilled.”

The episode, filmed in Charlottesville, will premier July 16 at 9 p.m. and feature Glen Allen-native Rex Holmes, a patent lawyer who operates http://SavoryReviews.com a blo,g centered around tasty recipes and BBQ.

The show features hardcore grilling enthusiasts from across the country going head-to-head for a chance to compete for a $10,000 cash prize and bragging rights when they are crowned the ultimate “grill master.” > Read more.

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The SPARC SummerStarz Touring Ensemble, comprised of 30 talented actors ages 9-15, will take the stage in “All Shook Up!” at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Henrico Theatre,… Full text

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