Monday morning, we left for the USO at 9:45 am. We received a call from Dave Ostrum asking us to stop by the Navy Exchange and pickup toys at the Flower Shop. We brought 3 shopping carts worth of toys back to the USO. Joyce Schellhorn (Director) was there along with volunteer Julie Davis and after unloading the toys Dave and I drove in our van back to a home in Arlington Hills where we picked up 1 adult bike and several small children’s bicycles. We also stopped at the Coast Guard Exchange in Mayport to check on a Christmas Tree for Joyce. Back at the USO Pam was working in the Toy room (last week to fill bags for families prior to Christmas) and I helped Dave sort and display meat and other food items delivered by Beams that morning. We filled all of the coolers with meat and Dave arranged the other food while I broke down boxes and made numerous trips to the dumpster. By noon patrons began coming for food and we also had a few come for Holiday food baskets and Toys. Cheryl Vandiver returned from a Cruise to the Eastern Caribbean and it was nice to see her again. She would only be working for another week as she was quitting on the 22nd of December. She and Julie spent most of the morning working on the various lists for Toys and trying to make sense out of what had been done the past week. Seemed every day the process changed and with so many hands involved with so many lists problems were inevitable. At 2:00 pm Pam and I left for a dental appointment for Pam. We drove to Doctor Patch’s office on Old St. Augustine Road and Pam had her teeth cleaned. We returned to our apartment and Pam fixed a salad and then we drove to Neptune Beach to have dinner with the Jarvis family. They had also invited John & Betty Gevara from the ward and it was a nice evening with the 3 couples. John was a retired Navy Master Chief and worked at SERMC on the Naval Station and Betty worked at the downtown University of Florida Hospital. Following a wonderful dinner, we gathered in the living room and Lance gave us a short FHE lesson on the Savior. Nice evening.
Tuesday morning, we arrived at the USO at 10:00 am and Pam went right to work filling Toy bags and Cheryl Vandiver asked if I would take her truck and pick up some bicycles. With the help of GPS, I made my way to an “Ernst & Young” office south of Old St. Augustine Road and met Lena, who was in charge, and she and 4 others helped me load 7 bicycles into Cheryl’s truck. I returned to the USO and Dave Ostrum was there and later a friend of Cheryl’s named Carol came to help. Pam, Cheryl and Carol worked in the Toy area and finished bag after bag of toys and I placed them in numerical order for pickup in the lounge areas. Dave ran the office making and receiving phone calls. We had many patrons coming for food and for Toy and Food Basket pickups. It went quite smoothly and surprisingly Joyce Schellhorn (Director) didn’t show up until 4:00 pm. After visiting with her for a few minutes we left for the day and had a late lunch and then returned to our apartment. Sister Abril and Knudsen came at 6:00 pm and Pam looked at a dress for Sister Abril that needed repair and alteration. Both of them were getting new companions on Wednesday as Sister Roberts and Gabbitas left today for home. Pam received a call from Samantha Lagae about possibly baby-sitting tomorrow and Thursday and we worked it out to help her. We sent a text to all of our families reminding them of the 1-hour sacrament meeting on the 23rd and hoped they would join us.
Wednesday morning, we left for the Naval Station at 7:30 am where Pam baby sat for Samantha Lagae, so she and Jerald could attend a school activity for Eleanor. At 9:00 am I drove to the USO and Dave Ostrum was there along with Julie Davis but not much was happening as Dave said Joyce gave him strict instructions not to touch any of the toys until she arrived. I busied myself cleaning up and consolidating the food and cans on the “free tables,” put away the coolers and swept the main entry. Cheryl Vandiver arrived shortly thereafter and went right to work with the toys and Julie helped her, but Dave and I stayed out of their way. We had patrons come for food and toys and we dispersed 2 food bags and about 12 toy bags while I was there. It was very nice to have a patron thank us from the bottom of their hearts for the toys and that made our day. At noon I drove back to the Lagae’s and picked up Pam and we went to lunch in Neptune Beach. While there we got a call from Joyce Schellhorn (Director) who had just arrived at the USO and verified our schedule for the next day. Following lunch, we went to Walmart and did some shopping and then returned to our apartment for the afternoon. We hosted the Fort Caroline Sisters for dinner and Pam spent time getting a meal put together. I set the table and at 5:00 pm Sisters Wasden and Topham arrived and it was nice to greet them. Sister Wasden was from Eagle, Idaho (near Boise) and Sister Topham from Freemont, California. She certainly looked like Gordon and Jo Ann Topham’s girls and said she had relatives in Parawon so we figured there was a connection. Pam fixed a wonderful soup and bread dinner and we ate and visited and enjoyed their spirit. Sister Wasden left us a message and following a prayer they left for appointments. Pam and I cleaned the kitchen and I called Elizabeth Stenson and some other families, but got no responses.
Thursday morning, we departed for Mayport at 7:30 am in rain and Pam dropped me off at the USO and continued on to the Lagae’s where she took care of Clive and Fiona while Jerald and Samantha went to the elementary school to enjoy a program for Eleanor. I opened up the USO and let in contractors who are still working on the restrooms. Bread and pastries had been delivered so I tabulated their value and set them out for pickup by patrons. At 9:00 am Charlie Tramazzo arrived, and an hour later Cheryl Vandiver and Joyce Schellhorn (Director) arrived. I received instructions on the Toy bags and what they were going to do with excess clothes and toys. The three of them left at 11:00 for a Staff activity in St. Augustine. I made calls to patrons who had not picked up their toy’s and other patrons came for bread and pastries and other free items. Pam arrived shortly after 11:00 am and had a good time with the kids. She went to work in the Toy room sorting through clothes and toys trying to determine those to keep for next year and those to give away now. I made a final pickup of toys from the Navy Exchange and also picked up some gift cards from a hotel on Jacksonville Beach—both in a driving rainstorm. All the “bosses” returned at 3:00 pm including Dave Ostrum and apparently, they had a good time. Joyce had told us to take toys or clothes to our families if we wanted and Pam made up a few bags with items she felt the kids would like and after leaving we drove to the Lagae’s and dropped off a bag to her. Shay Tuttle came to the USO during the day and got some bread and Pam showed her some infant clothes and she took a few. After leaving the base we drove to the Elder’s home and completed an apartment inspection. It was the first time we had been in their apartment and it was very clean. They had a problem with a stove element and we discovered it wasn’t connected, so got that taken care of and everything seemed to work all right. We took them out for dinner and enjoyed getting to know them (Elder Crandall and Beals) and they were both good missionaries.
Friday morning, we left for the Naval Station to greet the USS “The Sullivan’s” following a deployment and as we approached the Carrier Piers it appeared like a ship was already there. Sure enough, “The Sullivan’s” was an hour early. The main deck was lined with sailors in Dress Blues and they looked real smart. Base Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) was hosting and we joined the lady in charge and handed out water and goodies. As we walked up and down the pier, we looked for Shay Tuttle and her parents and eventually found them right in front of the gantry with the new baby. When Sailors began leaving the ship, Chris Tuttle was number three and I moved forward and took a lot of pictures of him greeting Shay and meeting his daughter for the first time. It was a very tender moment. Once the sailors began leaving the ship the pier was in motion and we continued handing out water and goodies for an hour. We helped MWR clean up and loaded leftover water into our van to return to the Navy Exchange. A group of sailors helped take down the tent and that was a challenge as the wind was blowing about 25 mph. We worked at the USO for several hours; Pam was in the kitchen and had brought soup for lunch for the workers and also baked a cake for President & Sister Lee. I broke down boxes from a Beam’s delivery and put all the clothing and toys leftover from the Christmas drive into bins and moved them into the back-storage room for storage in the attic. When done the toy room was totally empty with the exception of about 6 Toy bags that hadn’t been picked up by patrons. When we left, we said goodbye to everyone and wished them “Merry Christmas” and drove to the base to give out some presents but only Jenny Black and Shay Tuttle were home, but it was nice to see them. Rich Black was on his way to Jacksonville from Pascagoula, MS and that would be nice for Jenny. From the base we drove back to our apartment to unload the van we passed the entrance to I-295 North, and a police car was blocking the entry and we could see traffic backed up on the bridge. We checked online to see what had happened and a major accident occurred on the bridge and the northbound lanes were closed. I called Tyler Gneck and told him we needed to leave for the airport earlier than planned and at 4:00 am we returned to the Naval Station and picked him up and two of his friends that also needed rides to the airport. Instead of taking the Dames Pt Bridge, we took the Matheson Bridge into the downtown area and then north on I-95 to the airport. It was slow going as normal traffic on I-295 was diverted to the other bridges. But we made it and they were in time for their flights.
Saturday morning, we got to rest and relax some. I took the van and got it serviced in the morning and when I returned, we cleaned the apartment and did laundry. Shortly after noon we drove to the Alexander’s and visited with them and left a Christmas gift. The kids, Tristan and Kyler, were excited and seemed to enjoy seeing us. We then drove to the Naval Station and saw the Lagae’s and also left a gift and visited with them. Eleanor and Fiona were excited for Christmas. We had a nice visit with Jerald and Sam and planned to see them tomorrow at church. We stopped at the Tuttle’s and left copies of the pictures we took on Friday of Chris’ return. We learned the Jarvis’ were in Washington D.C. for Christmas and did some texting with them and happy for them to get away. The Heads were in Orlando for a week with Nikki’s mother and would spend Christmas there. We returned to our apartment and spent the rest of the day doing more laundry and making the bed and relaxing. Sister Abril came later in the evening with her new companion, Sister Dreiling, and picked up her dress that Pam altered.
Sunday morning, we left a little early as the Sisters texted us asking if we could pickup “James” in Neptune Beach. We drove to James’s home and he was ready to go, and we proceeded on to the Jacksonville Beach Ward. James just graduated from Fletcher High School and was unemployed and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. We arrived in time for the Sisters to greet him and then took our seats and the meeting began. Rich & Jennie Black were in attendance with Olivia and that was nice to see. Alexis was waiting for us and she had on a pretty red dress and looked very grown up. Brother Rennie brought Blake Harris and it’s the first time we had seen him since we had dinner with the single members last summer. The Noblits were there as was the Bishop and his family so we had a good military presence. The Jarvis’ were in Washington, D.C., the Heads in Orlando, Chris & Shay Tuttle home with their new baby and Tyler in Arizona, but Shay’s parents were with us today and we got to visit with them following the meeting. The Lagae’s were not with us and that was a disappointment. The meeting started at 10:00 am and following the Sacrament service, we enjoyed a very nice Christmas Program put on by members of the ward. It took a while for James to understand what we were doing in the meeting, but I tried to help him understand the Sacrament and the Program. It was a wonderful program with beautiful music and excellent spoken words and the concluding speaker was Bishop Currie. Following the meeting I explained a normal Sunday to James and he was very interested, and we think he will come again. The Sisters had another person with them, a young female Coast Guard sailor and we met her and hoped that proceeded well. After dropping James off at his home, we continued on to our apartment and Pam fixed some pizza for our lunch/dinner and we spent a quiet afternoon and evening.
Chris & Shay talking with the local media about the homecoming