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2018 Distinguished Veterans, top row: Steve Adams, Stephen Dahrens, Randy Eshleman, Carl Frank and Kenneth Hern. Bottom row: Kathryn "Kat" Sanderson-Cox, Fred Schafer, Gordon Stephens, Wesley Whiting and Jim Willis.

Eleven Distinguished Veterans were honored Friday evening during the annual Veterans of the Year Banquet to be held at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center.

Steve Adams

U.S. Navy: 1961-1967

Nominated by Dennis McNaught

Steve Adams of Albany is dedicated to the advancement of American Legion Post 10 and he supports all veterans. Adams has advanced within the leadership roles of American Legion Post 10 and Color Guard and is credited with creating a family atmosphere at the post.

In 2015 he organized the Sept. 11 Memorial Ceremony, now held annually on the steps of the Linn County Court House.

Adams revised and organized the Pearl Harbor ceremony each Dec. 7 for survivors and community members. Adams was also instrumental in starting the Veterans Grave recognition program.

Albany is also on the map as a Flag City USA due to Adams’ hard work and dedication.

“Steve has provided needed support, not only on military remembrance days, but every day of the year for all veterans and their families,” McNaught said.

Michael D. Cantrell

U.S. Marine Corps: 1969 (then transferred to Marine Corps Reserve)

Nominated by Junction City Grange

Michael Cantrell of Junction City has been actively involved with community veterans' needs since the early 1970s, when he first stood up for veterans affected by Agent Orange and those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He is active with the Big Brother program, toy runs for underprivileged children, gathered items to send to overseas troops during Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan.

He continues to assist with veteran stand down events  in the local area and Thanksgiving dinners for veterans in need.

Stephen F. Dahrens

U.S. Navy: 1961-1966

Nominated by Larry Williams, Commander, American Legion Santiam Post 51

Stephen Dahrens of Lebanon is the Post 51 chaplain. He joined the post in 2013 and stepped up immediately. Dahrens was instrumental in setting up a common area for religious services inside the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home. He now holds weekly services and makes the rounds to visit veterans, their families and staff to assist with their needs.

He presides over the many solemn “walk-outs” as the veterans leave for their final resting place and often sits with veterans during their final hours so they never are left alone.

“Steve’s reach extends far beyond our post and his presence is felt well into the Lebanon community,” Williams said.

Randy Eshleman

U.S. Air Force: 1973 -1979

Nominated by Lily Thompson of the Lorane Grange No. 54

Randy Eshleman of Lorane has been an active member of the Lorane Grange for about 30 years. He has spearheaded community projects and promoted the Grange as a whole. He has received the Outstanding Community Service Award several times.

Eshleman has worked to successfully mentor a number of troubled young people in the community and works wherever he can to help others in a quiet, kind and gentle manner. Along with fellow veterans, he started a flag ceremony at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Lorane.

“Our community is a better place for individuals like Randy who give back unconditionally,” said Lily Thompson.

Carl Frank

U.S. Navy: 1952-1975

Nominated by David Stahl of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 585

Carl Frank of Halsey enlisted in the Navy in 1952, entered flight training in 1956 and received his wings and commission in 1957. He served in eight squadrons and commands, flying fixed wings and helicopters. He retired in 1975 as an O-4, lieutenant commander.

Frank moved to Oregon in 1977. In 1981 he helped organize the Rice Hill Volunteer Fire Department and served as chief until 1989. He chairs the Halsey City Planning Commission and helped plan and build a Veteran’s Memorial Park and monument. He has risen through the ranks within the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 585 and is a member of the American Legion Post 184 in Brownsville.

He steps up for all chapter events and volunteer efforts, such as the Strawberry Festival and the Hero’s Half-Marathon, builds wheelchair ramps for disabled veterans and assists with fishing trips for veterans.

Frank has donated blood six times this year, and over the years has given 105 pints.

“Carl is always there when needed, always willing to help,” Stahl said.

Kenneth Hern

U.S. Army: 1979-72

Nominated by Lonna Bennett, Lowell Grange No. 745

Kenneth Hern of Lowell enlisted in the Army and attended boot camp at Fort Lewis, Washington. He transferred to Fort Hood, Texas as a crew chief on the Huey helicopters. He deployed to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. After his discharge from service, Hern settled in Lowell.

He was a member of the Budget Committee and Parks and Planning committees. Small town volunteers aren’t paid, yet Hern purchased the dirt and grass seed and spread it himself in Rolling Park. It was Hern who cut the grass in the parks, the cemetery and at the Grange. He built the restrooms in both city parks as well.

“Ken takes the initiative to do whatever is needed,” Bennett said. “Where others may think a task is impossible, Ken finds a way to get it done. Whether it’s building wheelchair ramp access in our community or restoring a 103-year-old building, Ken is usually spearheading the action.”

Katherine (Kat) Sanderson-Cox

U.S. Air Force

Nominated by David Solomon, American Legion Post 10, Albany

With Katherine’s Sanderson-Cox's willingness to volunteer, and with her guidance, the Albany post continues to grow each year with unique events for the community. In August 2017, she initiated an event in Albany to help celebrate the solar eclipse, using the Albany Municipal Airport and gathering all hands to assist. Folks from as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia descended on Albany for the event.

Currently she holds the position of finance officer, spearheading events all while keeping a check on the bottom line, such as Halloween and Christmas children’s events, family-oriented gatherings and Toys for Tots. She also attends to the fallen with the American Legion Riders' numerous flag lines. She also is a member of the Native American Color Guard and participates in many Native American ceremonies.

Fred Schafer

U.S. Navy: 1961-1966

Nominated by Leslie Lewis, the National Atomic Veterans Association

Fred Schafer of Lebanon served aboard the Chipola AO-63, a floating service station.

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During his service he and his shipmates were asked to observe various atomic blasts. Many suffered physical deterioration after being exposed to significant amounts of ionized radiation. These experiences were labeled government secrets and among the service members it was felt to be their patriotic duty to uphold this silence.

Schafer joined the American Legion Post 51 in Lebanon in 1971. He is a consistent and reliable volunteer. In the early 1980s he met someone who spoke about a National Association For Atomic Veterans. He immediately joined and assisted in starting an Oregon chapter. He continued in this capacity and was elected as the National Commander of the Atomic Veterans Association.

Schafer began a newsletter and made contact with over 300 members of the Chipola.

Through this newsletter, servicemen began to talk about their health issues and lobbied the Veterans Administration to get the help they needed. Working with the Oregon Legislature, the group was successful in having July 16 designated as Atomic Veterans Day in Oregon.

Gordon E. Stephens

U.S. Army

Nominated by Amy Stephens

At 87 years, Gordon Stephens of Marcola has been the solid foundation for his family and his community of Marcola for decades. Stephens quietly gives of his time and has coached and mentored many young people in baseball programs, 4-H, Mohawk Grange, Marcola’s Mary Cole Days, the Mohawk Booster Club, assisted with Food for Lane County and Helping Hands.

He has also found time to assist the VFW during the poppy events.

“Over the years, Gordon quietly, selflessly gave of his time to support the youth of his community,” Amy Stephens said. “He set a solid example to his family for community service and he gave to his country by his honorable service.”

Wesley Whiting

U.S. Navy: 1943 – 1947

Nominated by Mary Blanshan

Wesley Whiting of Lebanon is of the Greatest Generation, young men who gave up their youth and innocence to make the world a better place for freedom.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 in Little Rock, Arkansas, then it was on to San Diego for basic training and on to New London, Connecticut, for submarine training.

He was assigned to the USS Franklin CV13 and remained on the ship from 1943 until 1945. He was off the shore of Japan when the USS Franklin was bombed, losing 754 sailors. The ship was towed to Pearl Harbor, where Wesley was deployed to the Hawaiian Islands, then off to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyards until his honorable discharge in 1947 as an aviation boatsman.

Whiting has volunteered most of his life for community betterment. He worked for Pioneer Telephone Co. for 38 years, but volunteering brought him the greatest joy. His name was “Happy Feet the Clown" when he went to nursing homes, hospitals and any place cheer was needed. He taught beekeeping, woodworking and roller skating to children. He also volunteered with the Eugene and Albany Police Departments and Fire Departments.

Wesley has also been on the Honor Flight back to Washington, D.C. to visit the WW II monuments and memorials.

Jim Willis

U.S. Air Force

Nominated by Randy Martinak

Reared in Albany, Jim Willis first remembers walking hand-in-hand with his father at a young age in the Albany Veterans Day parade. After graduating from Albany Union High School, he enlisted in the Air Force in 1961.

His total service of seven years, six months included one year in the Republic of South Vietnam.

Upon discharge from active military service, he began a career as a deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Roseburg. After a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, which also included Oregon State Police in Washington County, he was appointed as the Director of Veterans Affairs for the state of Oregon and served in that capacity for 10 years before retiring.

“Jim is someone who finds it hard to retire,” Martinak said. “He has been a member of American Legion Post 10 and Post 51 and the V.F.W. Post 584. Serving in leadership roles in each, locally, at the state level and nationally as well.”

Martinak added that Willis is “always there for his community and fellow veterans. “Spearheading the call for a veterans home, one now sits in Lebanon thanks to Jim. Many accolades can be shared about Jim, but the best way to sum it up is, Jim is a veteran’s veteran."

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.