DERBY, Conn. — Erwin “Gus” Williams, a Korean War-era Army veteran, is learning to ballroom dance for a good cause.
He has been kicking up his heels for several months at Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Southport to prepare for a Dancing with Our Heroes Gala Sept. 13.
Proceeds from the gala to be held at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford will go toward building a Fisher House on the VA Healthcare System grounds in West Haven. It will be the first Fisher House in Connecticut.
Families of hospitalized military members or veterans stay for free at Fisher Houses throughout the United States.
In addition to the “Dancing with Our Heroes” competition, the gala will include a dinner and professional entertainment.
The Friends of Fisher House Connecticut seeks to raise $500,000 toward the construction.
Williams has served as commander of the John H. Collins Post 24, American Legion in Derby for more than 22 years. “As post commander, this is my project,” he said in an interview Friday.
His personal fundraising goal is $10,000, and he has raised almost $400 thus far. “The post gave me $100,” Williams said.
Williams’ dance instructor at the Southport studio is Monika Barska, a 1996 graduate of Derby High School. He takes a fox-trot dance lesson weekly and also returns on another evening to practice the steps. The lessons are free.
“I’m there (at the dance studio) at least twice a week,” Williams said. His wife, Barbara, practices the steps with him.
The 22 Fred Astaire Franchised Dance Studios of New England are collaborating to support the fund-raising gala.
Williams is seeking votes on www.dancingwithourheroes.com. “Every dollar I’m able to raise counts as a vote,” he said.
Audience votes and celebrity judges will select competition winners. There are 40 contestants in the September fundraiser. “I hope to finish in the top 40,” Williams joked.
Williams credited his participation in the event to Stratford resident Raelene Miller, widow of World War II Air Force veteran Guy Miller. He said Raelene Miller is active in supporting veterans’ issues.
Williams served in the Army stateside from 1953-56. He has been a member of John H. Collins Post since 1977.
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