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County wants to continue program serving veterans, following incident at fair

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 July 2019 at 10:11 am

Photos by Tom Rivers: Urb Bennett, a veteran from Kendall, speaks to the Orleans County Legislature on Wednesday, including chairwoman Lynne Johnson, in back. Bennett asked the county to continue the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer-to-Peer Program, which provides social opportunities for veterans and their families.

ALBION – A program that provides social opportunities and community connections for veterans and their families is expected to continue despite a verbal altercation at the Orleans County 4-H Fair on Monday during the opening day ceremony.

State Sen. Robert Ortt attended the ceremony and was yelled at by a veteran and also the volunteer coordinator of the program, Catherine Schmidt. She is also the wife of Earl Schmidt, the county’s Veterans Service Agency director.

Ortt was chastised after the flag-raising ceremony for not getting more money for the program. The county initially was awarded a $185,000 grant for the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer-to-Peer Program. Ortt secured the funding. The grant was reduced to $52,500 for Orleans, with the rest of the grant shared by Genesee and Wyoming counties.

Orleans has about 40,000 people. The grants for the program are $185,000. That is how much Erie County received with a population of nearly 1 million.

“Other counties receive more than we do but we appreciate our funding,” said Lynne Johnson, Legislature chairwoman.

She thanked Ortt for securing money for the program for Orleans, one of 22 counties in the state with a Dwyer program. There are 35 counties without the program.

Legislators also said the county’s per capita allotment is higher than most counties with the program.

David Kusmierczak of Medina also speaks in support of the Dwyer program.

Many veterans attended the Wednesday Legislature meeting to show their support for Catherine Schmidt and her husband Earl, who is on administrative leave and remains a county employee. Nancy Traxler is serving as interim director of the Veterans Service Agency.

“It is our expectation the Dwyer Peer-to-Peer Program will continue and will be reorganized,” Johnson said at the meeting.

She again defended Ortt, who served in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan. He wore his veteran’s cap during the ceremony on Monday.

Karen Dawley of Albion reads a letter from her husband Pat Dawley in support of the Dwyer Peer-to-Peer Program. Dawley said he made many friends through the program. “It provides a place to talk about problems and demons in a safe place.”

“No one will ever disrespect a man in uniform, not under my watch,” she said.

Urb Bennett, a Vietnam War veteran from Kendall, said Cathy Schmidt did “a great job” leading the program as a volunteer. She organized many outings for veterans and their families to museums, professional sports games, as well as going fishing and having a picnic.

Bennett said an “unfortunate incident” shouldn’t derail the program or its leaders.

Jennifer VanWyke of Carlton said the Dwyer program has helped build a strong network among veterans and their families in Orleans County. She made new friends through the program.

Nancy Traxler, the interim director of the Veterans Service Agency in the county, asked for help in planning and putting on some of the upcoming programs through Dwyer. VanWycke was the first to say she would help.

The state budget for 2019-20 includes $3.75 million for Dwyer. The money wasn’t in the governor’s proposed budget, but county officials said Ortt helped to get the funding restored.

Johnson said the county awaits details on how the funding will be allocated.

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