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Meet Your Neighbor: Unicoi's Hazel Berry defines volunteerism

June 2nd, 2014 2:19 pm by Brad Hicks

Meet Your Neighbor: Unicoi's Hazel Berry defines volunteerism

Hazel Berry with her honors for 50 years of service. (Brad Hicks/Johnson City Press)

UNICIO — Unicoi resident Hazel Berry said she likes to kid the residents at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center nursing home that she has been around the facility longer than anyone else there.

For 50 years, the 89-year-old World War II veteran has traveled from Unicoi to Johnson City to volunteer her time at the VA nursing home.

 I love that place, Berry said.  We ve got one of the best nursing homes you could have anywhere.

Berry was born and raised in Unicoi County. Following her graduation from Unicoi County High School, she went to work for Eastman in Kingsport. After a short stint there, Berry enlisted in the U.S. Navy during WWII, and she was one of the initial WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) to serve in the Navy.

After receiving basic training in Bronx, N.Y., and International Business Machines training in New York City, Berry was moved to Washington, D.C., for a couple of months before being stationed in Cleveland, Ohio.

It was in Cleveland that Berry began the volunteer work she continues to this day. There, she volunteered at the Crile Military Hospital. Berry said this was during a time when the nation called upon volunteer assistance for  everything, she said.

 That s where I decided I wanted to do that after I got my kids in school, she said.

After her service in the Navy ended, Berry returned to Unicoi County with the intent of going to college. But then she ran into Richard Berry, who also served in the Navy during WWII, and she decided to settle down. The couple was married for 58 years until Richard s death eight years ago. Although her military service had concluded, Berry decided she still wanted to serve her country. So she began volunteering at the Mountain Home VA.

In the 1960s, Berry taught herself to drive by backing up and down her driveway so that she could make trips to the VA on her own.

 Richard always laughed at me about that, she said.  He said I could back up better than I could go forward.

Berry has remained active in the Mountain Home VA s volunteer office, and especially in the nursing home. There, Berry spends time with the veteran residents and tries to make their stays in the facility as pleasant as possible. Berry said she helps residents in any way she can. Her assistance has included writing letters, feeding residents and shopping for them.

 I just love it, Berry said.  They re just like family to me.

Berry continues to travel to the Mountain Home VA twice a week to volunteer.

 It means so much to me, she said.  I just thank God every day I m able to get over there.

Recently, Berry was recognized for her five decades of volunteer service at the VA, receiving plaques and a special recognition signed by Gov. Bill Haslam.

She has no plans to stop her weekly trips to the VA.

 I just get up every morning, and I thank God every morning, she said.  And I always pray that he ll make me a blessing to somebody today.

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