Dubuque’s Veterans Freedom Center is a Necessary Haven for Heroes
In July, I spent time at Kwik Stop on JFK Road and the BP on East 16th Street helping collect donations for the Veterans Freedom Center in Dubuque. The consistent presence at these events was Jim Wagner, the center's founder, who turned his garage-operation into a full-blown brick-and-mortar organization that now lives on Kerper Boulevard.
"Come out and take a tour," Jim told me at both events.
My 88-year-old grandfather is a Korean War veteran. Another uncle of mine served in Vietnam. I've seen first-hand that recounting war stories and finding a place that fosters the kind of social interaction and intimate care America's heroes need doesn't come easy. For Tri-State veterans, Veterans Freedom Center is there.
An unassuming building located in an industrial-esque strip on Dubuque's Kerper Boulevard, the Veterans Freedom Center (VFC) stands tall: a place for vets to mingle over a cup of coffee, food, dessert, woodwork, build crafts, and enjoy a different breed of glory years.
Through generous donations from everyone from the DRA to Kwik Stop, VFC has been able to give veterans a place of community. The first room Jim showed me was filled with workbenches and scroll saws, where veterans could do some woodworking and other precise cutting. Vets make everything from immaculate and unique utensils to signage that cover the walls of the entire building.
The artistry on these pens is incredible, each one designed and tailored by people who have walked through the doors of the VFC in need of activities. Jim and his staff are happy to provide them. The Freedom Center is entirely volunteer-run, and without the help of compassionate individuals selfless enough to give back to those who've served, it wouldn't be possible. Jim reminds himself (and others) of that constantly.
I once took a solemn oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign & domestic. Be advised that no one has ever relieved me of my duties under this oath.
This "mic drop" statement is inscribed into a slab of wood that became a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind sign that hangs proudly at the Veteran Freedom Center. It might be my favorite piece there.
Also worth noting is that Veterans Freedom Center serves as a place for can recycling/donation. Simply bring your container or garbage bag of used aluminum cans and glass bottles to the shed located on the left of the VFC building and a friendly soul will be happy to take them from you.
If you're lucky, you might get a peek of the shelf in their warehouse that houses a litany of unique cans and bottles, too pretty to crush or destroy in the eyes of the vets.
One of VFC's programs is called "Operation We Care," dedicated to personally assisting veterans in a variety of ways. Some examples of such support include assisting homeless veterans and families, providing financial aid for rent and mortgage payments, and gifting re-furbished wheelchairs and walkers to a veteran or veteran's family member.
Another is called "Give a Lift to a Vet," which provides the local veteran population of the Tri-State area a comfortable and convenient method of transportation to and from the V. A. Medical Center in Iowa City. Vets can schedule a ride by calling the VAMC in Iowa City at 1-800-637-0128, extension 7061.
In the VFC's recreational room are a plethora of different soldier uniforms from different eras in history. One of which is from World War I and is complete with a gas-mask. Jim insisted I feel the fabric of the uniform. It was coarse and uncomfortable; donning it in insufferable heat or grimy trenches had to be categorically miserable. And yet, many men did it and did it with valor.
Jim Wagner beams with pride when pointing out the many pieces of history that live on the walls of the VFC. How could he not? He started this operation out of a need to do something years after his service, when he was still haunted by his experiences in the battlefields. He's seen VFC grow from a garage-business to a full-blown organization that provides invaluable services and community. It's clear his pride is equal to his gratefulness.
To schedule a tour of the Veterans Freedom Center, contact Jim Wagner at 563-845-0034. VFC is located at 2245 Kerper Boulevard, Suite 1 in Dubuque.