Time catches up with co-founder of Operation Enduring Support
Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.
DECATUR, Ill. — The most poignant voices at Sunday’s farewell reception for Betty Gaumer were the ones that didn’t talk out loud.
But they spoke volumes in the heaps of letters from grateful service men and women writing back to say “thank you” for care packages sent from Decatur to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Gaumer, who founded the family and troop support organization Operation Enduring Support with her late husband, Dave, has touched countless lives in far-flung frontlines in the war on terror.
“The Merry Christmas signs we are hanging up everywhere,” read one letter on display at Grace United Methodist Church, the home for Enduring Support. “And the air fresheners, well, we are an infantry unit, and all guys, and so, yes, they are quite welcome in our rooms. It’s nice to receive things from home and even nicer when they are from a local community.”
But after years of taking care of others since the creation of the support group in 2003, it’s time for the 80-year-old Gaumer to start taking care of herself. Left with debilitating hand injuries after a June car accident, she is demobilizing from active duty and leaving Decatur to be near family in Kansas, where she will undergo surgery to help her recover more fully.
She has passed her command duties to friend and admirer Ann Irwin, 75, who now assumes the leadership of Enduring Support. “A tough act to follow? Of course she is,” Irwin said. “She brought dedication and caring. Betty had started the group as a support group for military families, and then it also developed into the care packages we send, and we are now doing two large mailings a year and small mailings upon request.”
Gaumer, who has two sons who are both veterans, carefully reads all the letters she gets back from soldiers and can tell by their words that the work of Enduring Support is needed now as much as it ever was. “The tone of the letters from Afghanistan is totally different than the tone of the letters from Iraq,” she said. “These are the guys and gals who are worried about being forgotten.”
But Gaumer never forgets, and will miss the camaraderie of being on the front lines of remembering as those care packages get mailed. “I am going to miss this because I felt like my life was worth something and that what I was doing in my retirement years was worth something,” she said Sunday.
“You read those letters, and you know we are doing what we need to do.”