The sound of drums and piccolos echoed throughout the building as members of the Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps marched into the second floor of the Student Center. A crowd gathered inside to honor the veteran community. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, benefactors Laurie and Tim Wadhams, Washtenaw Community College President Rose Bellanca and members of the board of trustees were among the people in attendance.
Specialist Alberto Alacosta, president of the Student Veterans Club, was the only veteran in uniform, but he was joined by plenty of his fellow soldiers and Marines. Following a performance from the WCC Chorus and the egress of the Plymouth Fife, Bellanca took the podium.
She began her speech by thanking the veterans for their service. Acknowledging that they do not seek a spotlight, Bellanca encouraged the present veterans to accept recognition on this day.
Bellanca also offered her gratitude to the Wadhams, who made a generous financial donation to the college, with a significant portion of it going to the Veterans Center. The amount was not disclosed during the event, but it was substantial enough that the center was renamed in their honor. The Wadhams Veterans Center was officially renamed with a ribbon-cutting at the end of the ceremony.
“Along with all of us, Tim and Laurie want our veterans to have a place they can call home – with assurance that we will always provide our veterans the resources they need to make educational dreams and career goals come true. And also a place where their stories can be told and not forgotten,” Bellanca said.
Alacosta took the microphone after Bellanca’s speech and was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers from his fellow veterans.
“I wanted to emphasize the support we’ve gotten,” Alacosta said. “In (the Veterans Center) right next to me, seven people have touched our lives and made life (much) easier….We’re eternally grateful for that. Just in this past year, 3,702 veterans have gone in and out of this office…for seven people, that’s miraculous.”
The staff of the Veterans Center provide academic and career guidance, help facilitate the transition into civilian life and cut through government red tape so the veterans can focus on school. Petty Officer First Class Timothy Smith, Alacosta’s predecessor, explained:
“I went online, I registered, I hit the button, I walked in here, I filled out a form (and they) did the rest of the work,” Smith said. “They did all the paperwork that gets sent to the government to ensure that my tuition gets paid and that I get paid.”
But the staff’s commitment to veterans does not stop at WCC.
“What makes Washtenaw special to me is that every person here goes above and beyond,” Smith said. “Last semester, I found out that one of the guys I served with, and was one of my best friends in the world (passed away). He left behind a wife and four kids. His wife was lost… she didn’t know who to contact at the VA to get the benefits she’s allotted for being a dependent of a service member.”
He said he went to the Veterans Center and told them what was wrong. Every single person, including VA reps who don’t work for Washtenaw, dropped everything to help. They made phone calls and did research to get all the contacts his friend’s widow would need because she was out in Oklahoma City.
“Within a half hour, I had all the points of contact she needed to get a funeral arranged, a burial plot, an honor guard, and everything else she would need for counselors and grieving…. I will forever be grateful for Washtenaw, if anything just for that,” Smith said.
It is this sort of commitment to helping veterans that encouraged the Wadhams to make a financial contribution to the school.
Speaking about their decision to support the Veterans Center, Tim Wadhams said, “(We) have a very strong appreciation for the sacrifices the vets have provided for us and certainly a sense that as a country, we can do a better job of showing our appreciation to the vets in terms of (helping them with) healthcare, education and financial aid.”
Dingell quoted John F. Kennedy at the end of the ceremony.
“To express our gratitude, we must not forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
The veterans, the Wadhams, the Veterans Center staff, and the college are doing just that.