Several years ago, Shell Lake's city voted to raze several blocks to accommodate several new buildings and a large parking lot.
There is now a large, impressive two-story building filled with county offices all under one roof in the space where a line of small apartments, a pharmacy, and a house once stood.
The Veterans Service Office, which had always been in Spooner, was moved into their allotted space on the first floor where they found themselves with an entire wing assigned to them. They would need it.
When all the moving was said and done, an amazing amount of paperwork emerged from crowded storage areas the office shared with the Washburn County Highway Shop. Veterans Services went from two small cramped offices and an equally cramped waiting area to ten spacious rooms in their new location if you count their lobby. That's ten rooms that are earmarked for employee office space, general storage, a conference room, and a professional one-on-one counseling space for veterans. Other rooms will be used for the mounds of Veteran related records going back to WW1.
The Veterans Service Office is still waiting for furniture and shelving, so items are in their assigned rooms with the material waiting on the floor until it can be filed appropriately.
A "find" that surprised everyone was bookmarked. Military and Naval Records of Washburn Co. Service Men and Women. Inside were large index cards with hand-written information on each Veteran: their name, their family info, their address, and then where they had each served. The dates on the cards start in 1923, and it was the American Red Cross who was in charge of processing the information. Ten hand-written ledgers were also found buried in the piles of documents that hadn't been seen for years. These ledgers list all the men and women from Washburn County who served during WW2.
For the past eleven years, Lisa Powers, Washburn County's Veterans Service Officer and an Army Veteran herself has worked tirelessly finding answers for the 2200 current county veterans whose needs vary with each veteran.
Jill Matthys joined the team in June of 2020 when Angela, "Ella" Parker, transferred over to be the Veterans Service Officer in Burnett County.
According to Lisa, it takes a full year and a half of training to be able to do the work required of an officer. Jill, a veteran through her service as a truck driver in Afghanistan in 2005 for the National Guard is up to the task with eight months already served in her current position.
"We have so many programs for veterans and their families," says Lisa, “more veterans need to come in and talk to us." Often when a veteran dies, the spouse contacts the office, only to find out that their spouse never darkened the office door. Without the invaluable DD2-14 discharge paper on file, little can be done to help in time of need. "We can't help if they don't come in and sign up."
Every concession has been made for all to visit their new office location in the Services Building in Shell Lake/Lakeside.
There are multiple handicap-accessible parking spots in the lot on the west side of the building with smooth and level blacktop surfaces right off the corner of Third Avenue and Second Streets. Once inside, everything in the building is handicapped-friendly, even the chairs.
The office has retained their Spooner phone number, so it's 715-635-4470, and someone is in the office Monday through Friday 8a to 4:30p.
Recently the Veterans Service Office received an unexpected award, plus a militarily folded flag that had flown over Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in appreciation for their unwavering support to the U.S. Armed Forces. Stating that "Your leadership, faithful dedication to the 829 Engineer company, and selfless sacrifice has made a positive difference during Operation Freedom's Sentinel."
This award and flag will join the many other plaques and awards waiting to be placed on the walls after the furniture and files are finished.
Currently, the office is working with seven local vets who have Agent Orange claims pending with the government. Since former President Trump added Blue Water Navy to the Agent Orange list, it entitles naval personal who were on shipboard within 12 nautical miles from Vietnam to make claims, they are expecting more vets to file.
The Veterans Service Office is busy helping not only the Veterans but also their spouses after the Veteran dies. There are racks full of free pamphlets listing the many benefits out there for America's Veterans, and all Veterans are encouraged to stop in and sign up.