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VA talent show a tribute to veterans

Muskogee Phoenix - 2/12/2020

Feb. 12--Cindy Baumann was right there in the front row as different performers sang or played instruments Tuesday at the Salute to Veterans Talent Show at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center auditorium.

A rehabilitation patient for a week at the medical center, Baumann smiled, laughed and applauded during the program.

"I loved it. It was so amazing to listen to the different people singing," the Fort Smith, Arkansas, resident said. "It was just beautiful. There's so much talent with the people who work here."

Shantel McJunkins, the center's voluntary services specialist, coordinated the program. It was her idea to bring together the center's patients, workers and volunteers.

"This had been implemented two years ago and the veterans here were saying they wanted it back," she said. "In the past, we've had speakers who came in, speak about volunteers and then go home. We wanted to engage our employees with the veterans."

One of those employees was Sue Hughart, a speech-language pathologist for the past five months. She took the stage and sang her rendition of the Etta James song, "At Last."

"I'm in my second career now," she said. "I was the park manager at Lake Eufaula State Park, retired from that, and my first love is language. When they sent out an email looking for volunteers for this program, I volunteered. It's an honor to work with the veterans here."

Baumann particularly enjoyed listening to Hughart.

"She was on our floor singing (on Monday) and I came out of my room and asked who was the angel singing. It was her," Baumann said. "She was beautiful and really brought that song to life."

Not everyone sang. Performers also played instruments such as Steve Menasco. The Okmulgee veteran, who was in the U.S. Navy, played the dobro with Mas Mitchell of Tulsa.

"I've played the guitar for 60 years and this for a few years," he said. "I had to stop playing guitar because I had arthritis in my fingers and I couldn't press the strings down, so I started playing more with a bar. I've played in bands, nursing homes, assisted living centers and dances.

"I don't pass up the chance to go somewhere and play. It's fun. I can't pass up the chance to get applause and let somebody smile at us."

Ronnie Jamerson, a privacy officer at the center, smiled and clapped his hands to the music. He looked around and saw the veterans enjoying the program -- and that's all that mattered to him.

"I didn't know we had this much talent in the VA," he said. "It's been good entertainment. When you're stuck inside the hospital, this could be something that can really boost up their go and get them back where they need to be. It's been good for them."

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