John Enstrom, the architect behind Veterans Lake in Ramsey, dreams big.
This time around he’s reaching out to disabled veterans to host a day of fishing and a shore lunch. He’s inviting Purple Heart veterans who may be wheelchair-bound and hospitalized at a VA hospital in Minneapolis or St. Cloud. He also wants to reach those combat-wounded veterans who are isolated at home in towns across Central Minnesota like Elk River, Big Lake and Becker.
The Minneapolis and St. Cloud Veterans Affairs hospitals plan to send 50. Enstrom would rather they tap the shoulders of 150 to 200 or better yet let him and his organizing committee personally invite them.
Standing in his way and their way, however, are medical privacy laws and a belief by some that veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorders, addictions and other challenges are better off in treatment than getting a day out at a lake built for them with a complimentary dinner of fresh fish, corn on the cob and sliced watermelon served to them.
“We even offered a bus to get them here,” Enstrom said.
Instead, they must rely on word of mouth and a newspaper article or two to pull this off. It shouldn’t be this hard to lend veterans a hand. But as word travels, Enstrom’s phone lights up occasionally with veterans or the families they have left behind thanking him and promising to be there for the event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 5 at Veterans Lake.
“They all have a story,” Enstrom said. “I just want these fellows to learn there’s something more to life for them than what they have now. I want to get their eyes off their boot tops and looking forward so we can shake their hand and show them a good time.”
Enstrom, who has military displays year-round at Veterans Lake and hosts an annual flag retirement ceremony for Flag Day, is working with volunteers from the Elk River area and beyond.
Veterans Lake is located at 8102 181st Ave. NW, and there’s already an the alternate date of Aug. 6 established in case of inclement weather on Aug. 5.
This event is not open to the general public. Only disabled veterans who register ahead of time will be able to fish. Enstrom wants every disabled veteran to have a fishing pole and tackle. If you know a disabled veteran who could use a day out at the lake, reach out to them and help make it happen.
Enstrom hosted a similar fishing tournament in 2007. With the fishing being really good this year on this 22-acre lake, Enstrom and other friends decided to reach out to their contacts at the VA hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Cloud to invite disabled veterans to fish for the day.
Many of the veterans who came in 2007 suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and were dealing with alcohol and drug addictions in addition to their physical and mental scars.
“For these guys who are lifers at the VA, this will be their vacation day for the summer,” Enstrom told ABC Newspapers.
The Ramsey man and his foot soldiers have been gathering volunteers so fish can be caught along the shore and in boats out on the lake. Volunteers are being sought to clean and filet fish that are caught and to be fishing guides.
There will be prizes for the biggest fish caught. Fishing poles and tackle will be provided.
For those veterans not interested in fishing, there will be card games, horseshoes and corn bag toss games.
To volunteer for this event or share the name of a disabled veteran who would be interested in fishing on the lake Aug. 5, call Enstrom at 763-441-4086. More information can be found at the Minnesota Veterans Lake Facebook page or at www.veteranslake.com. – Jim Boyle, editor