Giving thanks to veterans

Holly Richrath
You are the bravest of the brave... Pictured above is one of the cards Debbie McDade sends to veterans every year to thank them.

Debbie McDade is thankful, and she’s taking names.

The Washington resident, who describes herself as a shy person, sets aside all reservations when it comes to thanking veterans. During the past 10 years, she has collected names of those who have served and are currently serving our country.

Each year, she sends a thank you card to each name on her list.

“I’m relentless about it,” she said. “I never say, ‘no,’ to a name.”  

This year, she said she will send a total of about 3,000 cards.

McDade said she is unsure of what triggered this effort, but calls it her “own little ministry.”

A Ministry Begins                                                                                                                                    

It started out innocently enough. McDade decided to design thank you cards to send to family members who had served our country. The recipients that first year consisted of uncles, her father-in-law and her father, Ronald Torgerson, whom she calls her personal hero.

“It was just really my own little thank you to my dad and my husband’s dad and his uncles,” she said.

The next year, McDade asked a few friends for names and addresses of their family members and friends who had served.

“My list has just grown and grown and grown,” she said. “It just went crazy.”

Last year, she sent out 700 cards to veterans and about 300 to the surviving family members of veterans she found in the obituaries.

“I put everybody to work on this. Everybody I meet, I ask them, ‘Do you know any veterans?’ Everyone I know, I ask.”

McDade does not stop there. She approaches strangers, asking if they served or know anybody who served. She scours Facebook, looking for photos of people in uniform.

She checks out newspapers and news channels. If mention is made of soldiers, McDade does her best to track them down and add their names to her ever-growing list.

“I can find anybody,” she said. “My husband thinks I should work for the CIA.”

McDade said with printing and postage, each card costs her about $1.

“That means last year I spent $1,000 or $1,100, which is nothing if you compare going to defend your country,” she said.

The former stay-at-home mom to son, Shaun, now 28, said her husband, Jerry, encourages her efforts.

“He says, ‘Honey, if you get 5,000 names, that’s fine with me. Don’t worry about the money, it’s such a big mission, and God has obviously pushed you into this,’” McDade said.

She sends cards to Puerto Rico, Spain, Australia and most of the 50 states.  

“I know I cover coast to coast, I just don’t know if I hit every state in between.”

She hopes to someday, she added.

A Nice Surprise

Joe Jachim of Bloomington, Ind., has received a thank you card from McDade for the past three or four years.

“It feels good to know somebody’s thinking of you,” Jachim said. “So many times veterans are overlooked.”

His wife, Veronica, said that the couple has been a friend of McDade’s family for quite some time.

“Joe was in the Air Force,” she said. “Debbie asked me during some family function if he was in the service. I said, ‘Yes,’ and just let it go. Then we received this wonderful card.”

She and her husband both said they now look forward to receiving the card each year.

Veronica Jachim has even recruited a few more names for the list. She sent McDade about 10 names from her recent 50th high school reunion.

“She’s sending them cards, and they will have no clue who this woman is,” she said.

Veronica Jachim said she sent McDade a thank you card in response to the thank you card.

McDade said she often receives e-mails, phone calls and letters from those she thanks.

“You honestly wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had phone calls from people or notes from veterans that say they thought nobody knew they existed anymore, that they were invisible.”

She keeps the tangible responses in a box she calls her little box of “I can’t believe people sent me these things.”

“This year I sent a card to Colin Powell,” she said. “Colin Powell hand-wrote me a note back.”

Continuing to Thank

McDade worked hard to get out this year’s cards before Veterans Day, which was celebrated Thursday.

“I went through my first 1,000 within a week,” she said. “I’m on my second 1,000 cards now, and I think I’ve sent out 1,300. I’ve got to have about 300 names in front of me.”

Although sending the cards is something McDade does to recognize others, she said her efforts have been a blessing to herself, as well.

“I can’t thank people who have been in the military enough,” she said. “They are these people who don’t know me and never will, but they would die for me and die for what America stands for. I could never, ever say thank you enough to these people. I guess it’s just my little ministry, my little effort, but really God’s been driving this bus for a long time.”

To have a friend or family member added to McDade’s list, e-mail her at be.the.change2@gmail.com.