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Service lifelong commitment for Akron veteran

11/7/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Honoring veterans this Veterans Day, Nov. 11

Highland Square resident Laura Dunlop, pictured above with the medal she received for her service during the Korean War, has served her country and her fellow veterans.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
HIGHLAND SQUARE — For Laura Dunlop, the military has been her life.

She was raised in it, the daughter of an Army man and World War I veteran who later worked at the Ravenna Arsenal, where Dunlop lived as a teen.

Then she served herself, spending four years with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, mostly in Yokohama, Japan.

She found time for marriage, motherhood and a career as a social worker next, but has spent the last 40 years as a volunteer with local veterans groups. Most notably, she started a local effort, Summit County Stand Down, to help homeless or near-homeless veterans get the help they need.

“I lived Army,” she said. “It was good to me.”

Highland Square resident Dunlop, now 82, was born in Ashtabula, one of 13 children. Six of them eventually served their country, though Dunlop was the only girl to do so.

She served in the Army from 1949 to 1953 in the 8060th Signal Operations Company, also known as the Signal Corps during the Korean War.

“I heard about it, applied and went,” she said. “I lived with women, but I was in the company of all men.”

The Signal Corps handled communication. Dunlop trained at the Pentagon and prepared to go overseas.

“I wanted to go to Europe and Spain,” she said.

Instead she was sent to Japan just a few years after the country’s defeat in World War II.

“They weren’t too sure whether they liked us or not,” she said.

Dunlop met her husband, William, originally from Michigan, while stationed in Japan, and the two were married there. They later had a church wedding when they returned to the United States.

The couple lived in Michigan and moved to Ohio. William worked in the trucking industry and also for the Summit County auditor, Dunlop said.

The Dunlops had seven children — six daughters and a son — and Dunlop settled into a life of PTA meetings and parenthood. When her youngest was 11, she returned to the work force as a social worker with Mobile Meals.

More than 40 years ago, she recalls her husband was serving as the commander at the American Legion Post No. 19 in West Akron.

“I was busy raising children,” she said. “He came home one day and said, ‘Get your discharge papers out, they’re recruiting.’”

She enjoyed being part of the organization, which she said works to support active troops and veterans by ensuring they know what services and benefits are available to them.

About 10 years later, she also joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 3383.

Dunlop’s husband died in 1988, but she continued to be involved in veterans’ issues and was eventually named to the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Women Veterans. In that role, she traveled around the state, and that’s how she saw the model for the Stand Down program she would go on to establish in Akron.

“Dayton and Franklin County did it, and I thought I needed to get off the road here and start one,” she said. “In 2005 we started putting it together and had the first one in 2006. We just completed our eighth.”

Held every September at the VFW Post No. 3383 on West Waterloo Road, the daylong event provides veterans in need with clothing, haircuts and hygiene items as well as a hot meal and the chance to meet with local agencies that can provide help in the form of housing and job assistance. Legal help is also available.

The Stand Down served 438 people this year, she said.

“We thought the numbers might go down with the increases in money going to veterans and the homeless community,” she said. “The average [attendee] is middle aged, but we also get some of the young people coming out too.”

After this year’s event, Dunlop decided she would step down as chair of the Summit County Stand Down.

“We needed a new, younger veteran,” she said.

George Baker, retired director of the Summit County Veterans Service Commission, will lead the effort, she said.

But that doesn’t mean Dunlop won’t be part of the effort to help those who have served. She said she’ll continue to work for Stand Down as a volunteer “as long as I’m capable.”

The grandmother of 13 (and great-grandmother of 12) also plans to continue working to remember the sacrifices of veterans. She assists in the annual placing of flags on veterans’ graves at Rose Hill Cemetery in Fairlawn for Memorial Day.

“That’s the one day we’re saluting each one of those veterans as we post a flag,” she said. “To me, the word ‘remember’ is such an important word. They are not forgotten.”

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