by Susan Mikula Campbell
When is the last time you said "thank you" to a U.S. armed services veteran? If County Clerk Wayne Jagow has his way, Niagara County's veterans will be getting those well deserved pats on the back every day in the form of discounts at local businesses.
With the support of State Sen. George Maziarz and the County Legislature, Jagow's office has launched a new Niagara County Thank A Vet Discount Program.
Whether a veteran is from peacetime or wartime, ranging from the few remaining vets from World War II to the younger ones returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, the process is simple.
To receive a photo I.D. card, identifying them as an honorably discharged veteran, he or she need only stop by the county clerk's office located on the first floor of the county courthouse at 175 Hawley St., Lockport. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Participants must be Niagara County residents, have on file with the clerk's office or bring in their official discharge papers (DD-214) and present a New York state driver's license or non-driver ID card.
The veteran gets his first "thank you" when he comes into the clerk's office.
"We have made every effort to 'roll out the red carpet' when they come in," said Wendy J. Roberson, first deputy county clerk.
It has been an emotional and eye-opening process for the staff. Roberson's voice chokes as she describes how she shook the hand of a veteran who came in for the card and said "Thank you for your service."
"He looked at me and his eyes teared up. He said, 'Nobody ever said that to me before. ... They spit on me when I came home.' To me, the amazing thing is nobody ever told him 'thank you' over the years," Roberson said. The man was a Vietnam veteran.
Jagow said he'd talked to a veteran who had been awarded two Purple Hearts and was proud he had never asked for any assistance or reward for having served.
"At least let us say 'thank you' for what you have done for our country," Jagow said, urging veterans to come in for the card.
Wheatfield resident Roger Andrews proudly displayed his card as he paid for breakfast and got a 10 percent discount Monday at Salisa's All American Diner on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Wheatfield. By the time he'd left, he'd recruited three other customers who overheard him into signing up for the free card. "Whenever I see a vet, I always tell them about it," Andrews said. "They're helping a lot of people out. It does mean a lot to that serviceman who is getting a discount on something."
Andrews served in the U.S. Navy from 1953 to 1957 and was a Niagara County deputy sheriff for 35 years.
He picked up his card on March 11, his son's birthday. He's already used it several times at Salisa's and he figures the next time he needs new tires for his car, he will use the discount at Dunn Tire, also located on the boulevard.
The Niagara County Thank A Vet Discount Program is less than two months old. About 100 businesses across the county are offering discounts on items ranging from wine to pet care to sunglasses for veterans who have the Thank A Vet card. Niagara Frontier Publications, publisher of the Tribune, offers 20 percent off display advertising and 50 percent off classified ads for cardholders.
Jagow is hoping many more businesses will join the program when word gets out about its benefits. While the card is permanent, participating businesses can sign up for a particular length of time. Businesses are given a decal to display on their door, thanks to a member item by Maziarz.
Lisa and Sal Buscaglia, owners and operators of Salisa's, said they joined the Thank A Vet program to thank local vets "for serving our country and to help them out as much as we can."
Their diner is located across the boulevard from the old Bell Aerospace complex. One wall features numerous photos of old planes from Bell.
"A lot of guys that come in here rode in those planes from a long time ago," Lisa said.
Both veterans and businesses interested in participating can find out more about the Thank A Vet program by calling 439-7022 or going online at [email protected].
A list of participating merchants also can be found at the website. Click on "Niagara County Quicklinks" and follow the link to Thank A Vet Program.
Jagow said he had heard about a Thank A Vet program in Rockland County at a county clerks association meeting he attended several years ago and decided to model a similar program here. It's a way to show gratitude to local honorably discharged veterans by offering them small discounts at local businesses, maybe stimulate local businesses, and keep sales tax here by encouraging participants to shop and do business in Niagara County, he said. Plus it provides a safe place for veterans to file their DD-214 papers so they always can obtain a certified copy when needed.
In the future, Jagow said, he hopes to be able to take the equipment needed to create the cards on the road to different sites for those veterans not mobile enough to come into the Lockport office. Since Erie County has just started the process of developing its own Thank A Vet program, he is also looking at the possibility in the years ahead that some kind of partnership could be set up allowing discounts to be offered throughout the whole region.