Vets outing recovers from pandemic with picnic

Long-running event returns after three-year break but with lunch on shore rather than a morning on lake

ALTHOUGH THIS YEAR’S Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing didn’t have a fishing component, about 50 veterans from the VA enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Van Ells-Schanen American Legion Hall in Port Washington last week. Organizers hope they can reinstate the fishing aspect of the day next year. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

This year, Port Washington’s annual Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing became the Disabled Veterans Picnic.

About 50 veterans from the VA Center came to Port last week to enjoy a day of food and fun — the first time in the last three years the event was held in any form due to the pandemic, organizer Mary Schuknecht said.

“This was a step toward getting back to normal,” she said.

Due to the pandemic, the VA wouldn’t allow the veterans to get on the boats and fish, Schuknecht said.

“They wanted people to be able to spread out,” she said. “There are close quarters on the boats.”

The VA also didn’t allow any inpatient veterans to participate, so this year’s outing was limited to outpatient vets, Schuknecht said.

So the vets this year spent the day enjoying activities at the Legion Hall.

“Everyone said they had a good time,” Schuknecht said. “They played bingo and won prizes. They played cornhole. Some of the vets brought chess boards. They enjoyed music. They took walks down around to the lake.

“It all went by so fast.”

Each veteran was given a t-shirt, hat and water bottle to remember the day, and the Legion raffled off a patriotic lap quilt to one lucky veteran, Schuknecht said.

The Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing — which is commonly referred to as “The Nicest Day in Port Washington” — was founded by Tom McQuaid, a Port fishing captain who was seriously burned in an explosion on his boat. The community rallied around him as he recuperated at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, and McQuaid vowed he would host his fellow veterans for a fishing outing.

The next year, in 1973, with help from Charlie Graham and Wayne Horman, McQuaid took out a handful of veterans and it grew from there.

The outing regularly draws 60 to 100 veterans — male and female — of all age groups who have a variety of disabilities and have served in the military from World War II to the current war on terrorism.

It takes about 200 volunteers, everyone from schoolchildren who make decorations to high school athletes who load wheelchair-bound vets onto the boats and from captains who take the vets out to the bakers and cooks who help put on the meal that follows the outing, to stage the event each year.

Fish caught by the veterans is smoked at Ewig Bros. and volunteers deliver the fish to the VA hospital, where they’re served to everyone there.

“We have the best volunteers on earth,” Schuknecht said.

While the VA prohibited the outing in 2020, last year they said a fish boil could be held on the VA grounds, but the veterans couldn’t come outside to enjoy it. The food would have to be brought inside for the vets.

That took away a big part of the event, giving the veterans a change of scenery along with a fun activity, Schuknecht said, and it would have added to the work of the staff at the VA, who would have had to bring the food inside and serve it.

“They had their hands full as is,” she said.

But with the pandemic becoming more manageable, Schuknecht said, the planning committee is looking ahead to 2023.

“Next year, we’re definitely going to plan for it,” she said, referring to a full fishing outing.

And the event will be planned for its traditional third week in June, she said.

“We’re planning on being back to normal, but it’ll all depend on Covid and the rules,” she said.

Although the outing is a lot of work, Schuknecht said, it is rewarding.

“When you see them smile, it makes everything so worthwhile,” she said of the veterans. “It’s a small way for us to say think you for all they’ve given us.”


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login