Long Awaited Meeting Place Now a Reality at Paramus Veterans Home

Long Awaited Meeting Place Now a Reality at Paramus Veterans Home

By:  Michael Palmer
The Bergen Record

Hundreds of military veterans — most of whom served in World War II and Korea — will now have a place to share their stories and memories, with the opening of a new 7,000-square-foot multipurpose room at the Veterans Memorial Home.

Prior to the construction of the new $2.6 million space, social gatherings and celebrations took place exclusively in the cafeteria.

“Before this, when they had any occasion here, they used to chase us out of the dining room,” said Tony Palumbo, a Korean War veteran who served in the Navy and now resides at the Paramus home.

Palumbo, who served on the home’s Resident Council for 10 years, said he got 1,500 people to sign a petition to build the room. He started lobbying for it 10 years ago.

“One thing I’ve noticed working here, is that, as the veteran’s get older, their long-term memory stays firm. They still remember and tell stories about the times when they were serving,” said Dianne Tabron-Felder, chief executive officer of the Veterans Memorial Home.

“We knew what our vets needed. To share time wasn’t enough, they needed a place to live. They needed their own living room,” she said.

Palumbo contacted Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, who organized New Jersey’s 12 other Congressional representatives to sign a letter of support for the Paramus home. The letter was sent to the Department of Veteran Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The facility was paid for through federal and state money — 65 percent from stimulus funds and 35 percent from New Jersey. Donations from various veterans groups paid for the $100,000 architectural design plan, which qualified them to receive the grants.  

“This will be a place for succeeding generations as well, to know they have a place in Bergen County, New Jersey,” Garrett said at Tuesday’s ceremony, which was also attended by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and Reps. Bill Pascrell, D-Paterson, and Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn.

The Paramus facility houses and provides around-the-clock medical and nursing care to 327 residents, including 251 veterans from World War II and Korea. It was the first veteran medical and nursing home to receive a five-star rating.

Following the ceremony, other veterans congratulated Palumbo on his achievement.

“Congratulations Tony. I know how much you did on this,” one woman said to him.

“This is incredible. It all started with the fundraising,” said Erwin Burkert, a volunteer at the home and member of the Korean War Veteran’s Association and the Veterans of Foreign War — two organizations that donated money to the plan.

“Veteran organizations initially donated money, but it wasn’t enough, so the money was on ice for a little while, until the government said that they’d donate the rest of the money,” said Burkert, a Lodi resident who served 15 months during the Korean War.

Major General Glenn K. Rieth, the Adjutant General of New Jersey, commended the staff and veterans on their sacrifice.

“The five-star rating is a testament to the compassion and care the staff to provides to its residents,” said Rieth, before addressing the veterans. “Because of your hardship, I had the opportunity to grow up in northern New Jersey of a free America. I’ve spent 32 years in uniform, and you are each and every one of you, a hero.”

Yet despite the brand new addition, and 36 new parking spaces at the facility, Tabron-Felder said more donations are needed. The facility must install a new security fence, two large television screens in the multipurpose room, and of course, a new bingo board.

As soon as she spoke, someone handed her a $1,000 check.