From Portland to Poughkeepsie
On August 23, the Marist community gave a huge welcome home to Associate Professor of English and Navy veteran Tommy Zurhellen, who had been walking across the U.S. since April to raise awareness of the issues of veteran suicide and homelessness and to raise funds for organizations assisting local veterans. On an average day in America, 22 veterans take their own lives; for this reason, he has walked 22 miles per day. To date, Zurhellen has raised almost $50,000 for Hudson River Housing and Vet2Vet, a program of Mental Health America of Dutchess County, both of which serve the specialized needs of former service members.
Arriving at Marist’s main gate at 2 p.m., Zurhellen was greeted by a large number of faculty, staff, student-athletes, elected officials, local veterans, and other community members. Accompanied by cadets from Marist’s Army ROTC and the Middletown High School Navy Junior ROTC, Zurhellen was greeted by Marist President Dennis Murray and his wife Marilyn before making his way down to the Campus Green to a hero’s welcome. Speakers included President Murray, Hudson River Housing Executive Director Christa Hines, and Vet2Vet Program Manager Adam Roche. The campus celebration also featured live patriotic music performed by the Marist Band and Singers, and cannon fire and field music provided by the 6th New York Independent Battery.
In recognition of his extraordinary efforts on behalf of veterans, Zurhellen was honored with the New York Conspicuous Service Medal, the second highest New York State National Guard military award. The medal, which was approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo, is awarded to any individual who has distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious service in a capacity of great responsibility. Command Sergeant Major (Retired) John Willsey and Sergeant First Class Erich Schmidt of the New York National Guard were on hand to present Zurhellen with the medal.
In a recent interview with the Daily Messenger in Canandaigua, New York, Zurhellen reflected on his journey. “I stopped worrying about being sore,” he said. “I wake up sore. I go to bed sore. But every day you want to quit and just go home, you remember the real pain of all those veterans and then it doesn’t feel so bad.”
The ultimate lesson? “One issue we can all agree on,” Zurhellen said. “We can do a better job for our veterans.”
To contribute to Zurhellen’s fundraiser, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/vetzero.