MANTENO — Post 107 Commander Richard Van Pelt, of Manteno, has been entrenched in the world of veterans since he was a child. Throughout his life, he has supported and advocated for veterans. And now, that support and his contributions to the AMVETS and veterans communities have earned him the 2020 AMVET of the Year award.
Post 107 2nd Vice Commander Thomas Page nominated Van Pelt for the award, saying, “I feel he is a great example of selfless service, courage and compassion. He is an exemplary role model for his community and his fellow veterans.”
The son of a veteran, Van Pelt participated in the JROTC program in high school before joining the Army in 1965. Upon discharge, he began advocating for fellow veterans. From volunteering at the Manteno Veterans Home to counseling veterans on what rights they are entitled, he uses his knowledge and resources to benefit veterans.
“The reason I contribute to the veterans community started when my father passed away at Hines Veterans Hospital when I was 2 years old,” Van Pelt said.
At that time, he said, he became a ward of the VA and his mother became his guardian. He recalled the VA checking in on him to see how well he was doing, and added that “small allotment helped a single parent in raising me.”
“From my grandfather through my great-nephews, we have served in the military, and it is the least we can do for the country,” he said.
He has volunteered for the last 17 years at the Manteno Veterans Home, clocking in more than 3,400 hours of work. Most recently he organized two separate parades for the veterans who were missing interaction with their friends and family due to COVID-19 restrictions.
He drives more than 100 miles roundtrip, going to five different cemeteries, every year to ensure his friends have flags on their graves on Memorial and Veterans Days. Additionally, he ensures deceased post members receive a wreath at Christmastime from Wreaths Across America.
He also serves the local community in many ways, including volunteering with the local food pantry for 18 years. He also is an active member of American Legion Post 755, the Advisory Council Chairman for Manteno Veterans Home, the Veterans Assistance Commission of Kankakee County and various faith groups.
As an AMVET, he serves as Commander of Post 107 and as the 1st Vice Commander of Illinois AMVETS District 4.