MIDDLE RIVER — Born in April 1940, military veteran Kenneth Engelke has early childhood memories of assisting other veterans now like him, specifically providing sandwiches and cigarettes to homeless veterans who would sleep by a railroad near his home. Doing this set the pace for him to continue an earnest, lifelong effort to help veterans.
Now the 81-year-old Nottingham resident shops at least once a month for supplies for veterans with money sent to him by Gunpowder VFW Post 10067 in Middle River.
Engelke has been the Post Auxiliary’s hospital chairman for over 10 years, and though he served in the military for over 25 years, he said that his work with the Post has been the most rewarding.
“I am so damn glad that I am a veteran,” he said. “But I am even more proud of what I am doing with the Post.”
Post 10067 primarily supports the Perry Point VA Medical Center, and Engelke has purchased essential goods, including coffee and comfortable clothing, to deliver to veterans, on behalf of the Post.
“The satisfaction for me is leaving the VA hospital knowing that things will be a little bit better because of the help that we provided,” Engelke said. “I see someone with shoes or a coat that looks familiar, and that is all the feedback that I need.”
Engelke served in five military capacities: the Army National Guard, the Army, the Army Reserve, the Air National Guard and the Air Force. He first learned about the important role of volunteers at VA medical facilities when he served in the Air Force, starting in the mid-1970s, and that was when he started fundraising for donations to give to veterans.
He also had prior experience making supply runs and food deliveries to families as a supply sergeant in the Army National Guard.
Engelke’s years of service taught him, he said, that everything he does in the military, regardless of what it is, is as significant and consequential as “blood and bullets,” and that lesson has applied to his work with the Post.
“It is not about what the country can do for me but what I can do for my country,” he said, echoing the famous words of former President John F. Kennedy.
He joined the military as a young man who wanted more to life than a job at a steel mill or an automotive factory, which he said was common for men his age at the time, and it was the “best decision” of his life.
“I would do it all over again in a heartbeat,” Engelke said. “I learned my love of this country and respect for the flag. But the high point for me was working with the generous, flag-waving patriots down at the Post.”