Jessie in the Creative Arts Studio
You can imagine that in my 97 years, I’ve lived through my share of ups and downs. As a Veteran of the Korean War, I’m blessed to have lived such a full and meaningful life.
And I’m so grateful to you for helping to give me such a wonderful home here at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre.
In fact, I don’t know of any other place where we Veterans could live so well. The Perley Rideau is an incredible place to be. My days are absolutely packed with so many fun things to do, like concerts, art classes, card games and social activities. I have so many friends here that my days are filled with laughter and camaraderie. I wake up happy in the morning, looking forward to what each day will bring.
I will be thinking of your kindness especially this Christmas, which will be my fourth at the Perley Rideau. There’s always a big turkey dinner, presents from Santa, and beautiful decorations. We all look forward to seeing staff, residents and volunteers perform in the Christmas Variety Show every year. The caroling sounds so lovely when everyone sings along, especially when Akos, the CEO, breaks out his guitar.
All of this is possible because of the generous gifts you send to the Perley Rideau. I’m touched that someone like you, who doesn’t even know me, would send a donation so that I can have a full and happy life here.
The other residents agree with me – we all talk about you, you know! Everyone says how lucky we are to have friends like you.
We are hoping that you will want to send the Perley Rideau a special Christmas gift this year to keep it feeling like home. The programs and activities that you support, like our recreation and creative arts program, make such a huge difference in our lives and we’re truly grateful for your generosity.
I really love all of the musical programs – they sure keep us busy here! And I’m often in the art studio, working on pottery and ceramic gifts for my family and friends. Your support means there is absolutely no reason to be bored at the Perley Rideau!
But I think my favourite thing to do is spend time with the other residents. You really get to know everyone by working in the art studio, going to exercise class or chatting in the dining room. Everyone is so friendly and kind here, including the staff.
Of course, I’m fortunate to have a lot of visitors too, as I’m not able to get out much anymore. I’ll usually entertain family and friends in my room, or we’ll go down to the cafeteria for lunch. On nice days, they’ll take me outside in my wheelchair to enjoy the view at the duck pond.
I do wish that we had a nicer place to entertain visitors. There is a lounge in our unit, but nobody goes in there because it’s rather drab and depressing. I’ve heard that the Perley Rideau Foundation has made it a priority to raise money to replace the furniture in all the lounges.
Everyone is really excited about that news! We’ve all been hoping for comfy chairs and couches for our visitors to sit in, and maybe some plants and colourful pictures on the walls.
I’m hoping friends like you will send along a special donation to help the Foundation update the lounges. That would be a really lovely Christmas gift for us!
Forgive me if it sounds like I’m complaining. The Perley Rideau is such a comfortable place to live. When I think about the living quarters we had in the field during the Korean War, I’m reminded that I’m living like a queen now!
I enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1953. My brother had joined up to fight in the Korean War and I was worried about him. I thought that I could somehow keep an eye on him, I guess, but we ended up being in Korea at different times.
I’d been a nurse back home in Ontario after graduating from high school in Ottawa. My parents had both died, and I knew I needed to find a career to support myself. So I completed nursing training, spent a few years in hospitals up in Kapuskasing (I loved the north!) and Ottawa before enlisting.
I soon found myself on a transatlantic flight with four other army nurses. For a girl who had never left Ontario, it was all incredibly exciting. When I reached the 25th Field Dressing Station about 25 kilometers from the front lines in Korea, I could hear artillery booming in the distance and the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire. Although I was nervous at first, I eventually got used to the noise. I knew our location was fairly safe.
But I never got used to the biting cold, the dust, or the moans of the boys in their hospital cots. I felt especially bad for the burn victims and would sit with them for hours, reading to them or chatting. I was glad that at least their unit had solid floors. The rest of the buildings in the station had dirt floors.
There were just nine of us, including the matron and a dietician, to cover 90 patient beds. We washed the patients with water that we warmed in open pails next to the potbelly stoves, our only source of heat. If I close my eyes, I can still see the steam rising off their bodies as we washed them.
We lived in pre-fab corrugated steel huts. These delightful inventions are brutally cold in winter and stifling hot in summer. Ours was partitioned into cubicles with a stove in the centre. The partitions didn’t go to the ceiling, and I remember we’d stand on our beds to chat.
We took turns lighting the stove in the morning, and at night, we filled our hot water bottles with water, hoping they would still be warm enough to wash with in the morning. We also took to wearing our pajamas under our uniforms in the winter, because the army didn’t issue long johns to nurses.
After two five-month rotations in Korea, I came home to Canada. I decided to stay with the army and by the time I retired in 1976, I was a Lieutenant Colonel and the Director of Nursing at the National Defense Medical Centre.
Then, at the age of 65, I fell in love with a man I had known many years before when I was posted to Churchill, Manitoba. Alan became the love of my life. We lived in his house in Florida during the winters and on Howe Island, near Kingston, in the summer months. Sadly, he died of a massive heart attack just seven years into our marriage.
I lived alone for many years after I lost Alan. Then, four years ago, I realized that I needed the extra support provided by the Perley Rideau. It’s been one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made!
My life here at the Perley Rideau has been so rich because of your generosity. I feel quite fortunate. I was proud to serve my country and now I’m proud to live with my fellow Veterans, including other women Veterans like me.
Your donation will help ensure that my friends and neighbors can continue to enjoy all the fabulous recreation activities and creative pursuits that make such a difference in our lives. Many of us had never tried to paint or do pottery before we came here, and now we can’t imagine life without it!
I’m so grateful to you for your kindness. I wish you and your loved ones a safe, healthy and happy Christmas!
Lt.-Col. (Ret’d) Jessie Chenevert (Urquhart)
Korean War Veteran and Perley Rideau resident
P.S. On behalf of all of the seniors and Veterans at the Perley Rideau, I would like to say thank you for everything you have done to make our lives here so wonderful. We hope you will be able to remember us this Christmas season with a gift to support the activities, programs and comfort items that makes us all feel right at home. Thank you so much!