Grand Junction couple goes above and beyond for veteransOct 31, 2023 10:59AM ● By Cloie Sandlin
Len and Judy Ladue embody the true spirit of service. This extraordinary couple, who are in their mid 70s, display a steadfast dedication to supporting Western Slope veterans, all while facing their own battle with cancer.
While this news might have discouraged most, it only strengthened their resolve to carry out their mission of serving our nation’s heroes and expressing a heartfelt appreciation for those who have risked or gave their lives for our freedom.
“Len has a rare blood cancer, and I lost my lung and some lymph nodes in January, but I’m not going to sit in a chair and let life pass me by,” Judy proclaimed.
Len currently serves as the commander of VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post 3981 in Grand Junction, while Judy embraces her role in the VFW Auxiliary. Their unwavering support is an inspiration to many, particularly within the veteran community.
FINDING THEIR NICHE
Len’s involvement with veterans began in 1969, when he enlisted in the Marines right out of high school.
“Both of my older brothers served in Vietnam, and my oldest brother was in the Marines, so I kind of just followed him,” he said.
He went to boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, and subsequently completed several tours in Quantico, Virginia, before being deployed overseas to Vietnam.
Unlike his brother in the Army, who suffered injuries from shrapnel, Len was fortunate to return from the conflict unscathed.
“I was pretty lucky,” said Len. “I didn’t have to go out in the jungle very often.”
After returning to the states, Len was stationed at a naval shipyard in New Hampshire before the Marines sent him to a junior college in Kansas, where he would eventually meet Judy. They married and she joined Len at Parris Island for about a year and a half before they decided to leave the Marines and raise their family in Kansas.
Eager to give back to their community and support fellow veterans, Len and Judy played a pivotal role in launching a VFW post in their quaint Kansas town, with Len assuming the post of its inaugural commander. When they retired to Grand Junction in their mid 50s, they quickly got involved with a local post. However, their initial choice didn’t quite align with their aspirations, so Len went back to work and started volunteering.
“I came home one day from doing some shopping and found he rearranged some kitchen cabinets, so I said, ‘Somebody needs to go to work!’” Judy said. “Maybe we retired too early and were trying to find our niche in Grand Junction. But when he joined the local VFW Post 3981, we found our niche and we took off.”
SERVICE & SUPPORT
The VFW Auxiliary is a vital group of non-veteran volunteers that support the VFW in activities that benefit veterans and their families. According to Judy, the local chapter's primary project involves providing coffee and a light breakfast to veterans every Wednesday morning at Western Region One Source. Judy, along with other dedicated auxiliary members, enthusiastically welcome veterans to this vibrant gathering that's filled with laughter and hugs. This weekly event draws in some 100 veterans from every branch and era, some of whom travel from as far away as Gateway and Montrose, to connect with other veterans over family, shared life experiences and stories of their military service.
Among a sea of mature faces, a few younger veterans stand out, including members of the Student Veterans Association at Colorado Mesa University (CMU). The VFW demonstrates their support of student veterans by awarding two scholarships per year. Additionally, Len and VFW members make sure the veterans’ lounge at CMU (named in Len’s honor) is well stocked with snacks to sustain them during study sessions.
The VFW also extends its support to veterans struggling with homelessness or those in need of essential supplies. At least twice a year, they host a Stand Down, where they provide clothing, sleeping bags, blankets, shoes, hygiene items and emergency supplies.
“We live in a very generous community,” said Judy. “We provide lunch, and even have a couple of salons that come in and give free haircuts.”
The post and auxiliary go the extra mile during the holiday season by preparing Christmas dinner for homebound veterans. They also purchase holiday gifts for veteran families with children.
“We have a lot of grandparents who are raising grandchildren right now,” said Judy. “We do a school supply drive, and [during Christmas] we try to buy a gift the children might like, and then a few extra stocking stuffers, and hats, gloves and things like that.”
When COVID hit, Len and Judy adhered to stay-at-home measures for several weeks, but their dedication eventually compelled them to check on their veteran neighbors. They traveled across Mesa, Delta and Montrose counties to distribute food, hygiene products and perform welfare checks for homebound veterans. In doing so, they were shocked to uncover some of their dire living situations.
“Some of them really lived in substandard homes or really old trailers with very few furnishings,” said Len. “You could tell they lived frugally and didn’t have a lot of financial resources.”
LEADING THE WAY
Like numerous other organizations, the VFW depends on the recruitment of new members to ensure the continuity of its mission, which is to foster camaraderie among U.S. veterans and to serve both veterans and the community for the years ahead.
“The membership has gone up and down over the years. As we get older, it’s much more challenging now to get younger veterans that are eligible to join the VFW,” said Len. “I’ve met a lot of good veterans, but when you’re in your mid 70s and they’re in their mid 20s, you don’t have a lot of things in common to go out and do. I love to hike, but I could never keep up with these younger men and women.”
However, on Veterans Day, Len is leading a group of veterans up Mount Garfield. That same week, they’re planning a stroll around Corn Lake so they can celebrate with veterans who rely on wheelchairs and walkers.
Len, Judy and their fellow VFW and Auxiliary members collaborate with the VA, Colorado National Guard, other VFW posts and veterans service organizations to ensure that veterans’ needs are not only met but that they also feel appreciated.
“We’re really proud of the men and women that belong to our VFW post and auxiliary,” said Len. “They really support the ideas and are very generous with their funding. We couldn’t do what we do without them.”
“We can enjoy what we have because of our veterans,” Judy added. “We never know what’s around the corner, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do. God’s not done with us yet.”
VFW Post 3981 meets monthly on the first Wednesdays at the post hall, 503 ½ Florence Road, Grand Junction. For details, call Len at 970-778-8242 or email LenLadue @gmail.com.
To be eligible for membership in the VFW, individuals must be U.S. citizens who are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces or have served with a honorable discharge status. Additionally, they must have served in a war, campaign or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters.
Membership in the VFW auxiliary is open to both men and women who have a close relative who’s eligible for the VFW.
Veterans from all U.S. military branches are invited to gather for coffee from 8:30-10:30 a.m. Wednesdays at Western Region One Source, 482 28 Road, Grand Junction.