Faith, gratitude drives Vietnam vet’s service to fellow vets

Dennis Noll, a member of St. Aloysius Church in Meriden, can be found every Wednesday and Thursday in Topeka, providing rides to veterans needing transportation to and from their appointments at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center there.
Dennis Noll, a member of St. Aloysius Church in Meriden, can be found every Wednesday and Thursday in Topeka, providing rides to veterans needing transportation to and from their appointments at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center there. PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Carolyn Kaberline
Special to The Leaven

TOPEKA — Every Wednesday and Thursday morning, Dennis Noll of Meriden can be seen at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center here. From 7:30 a.m. to approximately 3:30 p.m., Noll can be found driving veterans to a variety of appointments and lining up drivers to take others.

“Many of those we help can no longer drive,” said Noll. “Others are having procedures and are not allowed to drive.

“Still others are on medicines that make driving impossible. Regardless of the reason, we want to make sure that everyone who has an appointment can get there safely.”

Noll, a veteran himself, served in the Army from 1969 to 1971, primarily in Vietnam as a fuel truck driver and gunner. He has volunteered at the VA since his retirement from a federal civil service job with the Kansas Army National Guard in 2010, and is a parishioner of St. Aloysius Church in Meriden. As a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, he feels it is easy for him to make a connection with those veterans that he serves.

“Some of the oldest veterans — those from World War II and the Korean War — can connect with me because they know I understand what they have gone through,” said Noll. “I have a lot of respect for them. There aren’t many left.”

Noll’s work with the veterans began when he started serving ice cream along with other volunteers at the VA on the first Thursday of the month. There, the head of volunteer services asked him to become a coordinator for the drivers. When he agreed, he soon found himself lining up drivers, filling out monthly mileage reports, keeping track of gas receipts and maintaining logs of all the trips.

“The veterans we’ve served have been very thankful,” said Noll. “They often say, ‘There’s no way I could get to appointments without this. I’d be sunk and maybe dead by now.’

“Hearing that makes it all worthwhile.”

In addition to his work at the VA, Noll is also the district deputy for the Knights of Columbus, where he is responsible for getting information to the five parishes he works with, helping with the Tootsie Roll drive to raise funds for Special Olympics and overseeing his district’s free-throw contest.

“A lot of my faith has come from the Knights,” said Noll. ”It’s a great organization. I’ve met a lot of people I enjoy being around through it.”

He also helps with the baby bottle drive for Mary’s Choice and helped organize this year’s Trunk or Treat for his home parish — not to mention his involvement in a few stray projects like the parish’s fireworks stand, the pancake feed that helped raise money for Coats for Kids and a food drive for God’s Storehouse in Meriden.

Noll sees his current work as a way to give back to the church and to veterans.

But he also feels the influence of his parents in his work: His dad wasn’t happy unless he had “tons of things to do.”

He also feels his brother, who passed away earlier this year, is pushing him to keep active.

“Keeping active helps you to keep going,” Noll said.

After all the hours he’s put into both the VA and the Knights, Noll said that it is knowing he’s making a difference that keeps him in the vineyard.

“Working together with others can get anything done,” he added.

 

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