MARION -- Thanks to the generosity of a Carbondale woman, Southern Illinois' fifth Veterans Honor Flight is fully funded.
Mary Chew made her pledge official last Thursday, presenting a check for $83,000 to the organization during its flight announcement for Honor Flight Mission 5.
Honor Flight Board member Hope Patterson said Chew made her intentions known to the organization about six weeks ago.
"She stopped by the office between the Christmas and New Year's holiday to talk about her intentions," she said. "We spent some time talking to her."
Patterson said Chew originally applied to be a guardian but didn't meet the age qualifications.
"The cutoff is 70 years old," she explained, adding that there are other physical requirements, as well, including being about to push a wheelchair all day and lift 100 pounds.
"When they said I was too old, I decided to make lemonade out of lemons," said Chew, who funded the flight to honor her father, stepfather, husband, and three uncles who served during World War I and World War II.
Those six have all passed away.
"They are very important to me," she said. "I decided in honor and remembrance of them I was going to sponsor this flight."
Patterson said that Chew's gift makes it possible to start looking at the fall flight while preparing for the May 14 flight.
"We will accept applications until March 22," she said, "and will then begin slotting the vets."
Patterson said preference is given according to age and those with a terminal illness are given priority.
"With 300 on the waiting list, it's important to keep going," she said.
For those that know Chew, her generosity comes as no surprise.
"She visits our store and is always very generous and outgoing," said Dixie Terry, a volunteer at the Ministerial Alliance Thrift Store in Goreville. "This is a great thing she did."
In fact, since coming to Southern Illinois 60 years ago, Chew has invested her time and generosity to many organizations and projects.
"I moved here to attend school," she said. "I stayed and raised a family, have worked and been in business."
Chew has served on the Jackson County Board, the township board, and the Jackson County Workshop Board. She has been a member of the American Legion Auxiliary for 70 years. She has also volunteered at the Anna Veterans Home, the Marion Veterans Administration Medical Center, and at Scott Air Force Base.
Regarding the donation, she is humble.
"This is just a way to give back," she said.
There is a bright spot for Chew.
"I am going with them!" she exclaimed. "I am delighted!"
Chew said she has visited Washington many times.
"I've seen the memorials and even had the privilege of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," she said. "I'm just excited to be a part of the day, sharing stories."
The Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois expects about 85 veterans for the Mission 5 May 14 flight.
Information about the organization is available at www.veteranshonorflight.org.