New ride for a vet

A crisp Christmas afternoon didn’t slow down festivities, grins and congratulations at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 5108 in Marietta on Wednesday.

Operation Give a Veteran a Car (OGVC) gave away its very first car, a 2002 completely refurbished Toyota to veteran William R. Hagy.

“It means a lot,” Hagy said. “I don’t have to ride a bicycle every day.”

Karen Erb of the Washington County Veterans Services office said the event was something truly special and that Hagy was one of the most deserving veterans she’s seen.

“I’ve seen (Hagy) around the community for years,” Erb said. “He is the icon of work ethic.”

Erb went on to say that Hagy would ride his bike from Harmar Hill through Harmar and downtown Marietta and out Pike Street to the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley, where he currently works.

“We’re halfway from Harmar Hill to the Humane Society,” Erb said. “He would stop in and never have a complaint in the dead heat of summer or freezing rain in winter. He never complained or asked for anything. Times change, society changes and the economy changes, but work ethic does not.”

Hagy enlisted in the military at 21 and continued to work in the military for years after.

After an honorable discharge from active duty in the U.S. Army., Hagy joined the Naval Reserves.

After the Navy, Hagy joined the W.Va. National Guard. He served for a total of 22 years in the military.

For nearly two years Hagy has been riding a bicycle everywhere he goes, but now he can get in his car and drive wherever he needs to go.

“It’s still sinking in,” Hagy said, nearly at a loss for words.

Hagy said he is looking forward to being able to go farther than his bike could take him, and hopefully help him build a better life for himself.

He also said receiving the car on Christmas was a special honor.

“It’s pretty nice,” Hagy said. “It’s a different Christmas than I’m used to. This is a different surprise.”

Mayor Joe Matthews said he was thrilled the OGVC was giving a veteran an opportunity at reliable transportation.

“(Hagy) is a veteran, and we take care of our own,” Matthews said, adding that the various veteran organizations that make up Veterans Outreach was going to work with veterans in the area.

OGVC was formed in October when a family at the Muskingum Valley Baptist Church was in need of a car.

Gene Venham, president and founder of OGVC, decided he wanted to do something for veterans in need.

“This whole operation is very passionate,” Venham said.

He said when he returned from helping process the remains of fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, something was missing, and he brought up how awesome it would be to give a veteran a car.

“We’re one of the only organizations that give (the car) totally free,” Venham said, pointing out that some organizations will try to sell cars to veterans at reduced rates.

Venham said the car is donated or purchased through donations and then it is completely restored to its original glory.

Each car given to a veteran is dedicated to a fallen soldier.

Hagy’s car is dedicated to 1st Lt. Chris Rutherford, of Newport, who died in action in Iraq in 2007.

OGVC recipients are carefully screened for income, background checks and current employment, in order to ensure the veteran is “bona fide.”

Venham said the fact that the giveaway was on Christmas Day makes it special.

“It was the beginning of our operations, a kick off,” Venham said.

Future giveaways will be on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Venham is hoping to spread the operations from just Ohio to also include veterans in other states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

But as work will soon begin on a second car, Venham is declaring the first of many OGVC events: “Mission accomplished.”