Thursday, February 27, 2014
An Elmira woman’s dream of establishing a local hub for Honor Flights as a way to pay tribute to her father and all veterans is close to becoming a reality.
DeAnna Deneen said a $100,000 donation by Jeff Gural, the owner of Tioga Downs Casino in Nichols, will cover at least all the associated with the first Twin Tiers Honor Flight. That flight is scheduled for April 5 out of Binghamton.
The plane, a charter Boeing 737, will fly dozens of veterans and their companions from the Greater Binghamton Airport to Washington, D.C., for a tour of military monuments and memorials. The flight will return later that day.
“This has become my way of giving tribute to my father and to all veterans,” Deneen said. “If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t speak English today. We’d be occupied, and we would not be the country we are.”
The local organization is part of the nonprofit National Honor Flight Network, which was formed in 2005. Through 2012, the flights had served more than 98,500 veterans from 127 hubs in 41 states, according to the websitehonorflight.org.
Honor Flights are for all veterans of World War II and terminally ill veterans of other eras. Some hubs, such as the one Deneen is organizing, include all Korean War veterans.
Deneen, a native of Louisville, Ky., moved to Elmira two years ago. Before that, she traveled back and forth for several years after her husband, Jeffrey, was transferred to the Elmira area by his in 2006. She is a substitute teacher and the mother of three. Deneen speaks with a Southern accent that helped her land the starring role as Sugar Lee in the recent Elmira Little Theatre production of “The Hallelujah Girls.”
About a year and a half before she relocated, Deneen began formulating a plan to start a local Honor Flight. She knew that most veterans from this region who have taken such flights had to stay overnight in Rochester.
Deneen said she hoped to fly out of the Elmira Corning Regional Airport, but she found more interest at the Binghamton airport. She hopes to eventually add flights out of Big Flats, with a goal of two or three flights a year from the region.
Linn Redder, vice president of marketing at Tioga Downs , said she and Gural hope his donation will encourage other businesses in the region to contribute to future flights. As for Tioga Downs, she said, “If this is a huge success, I’m sure it’s something that we would absolutely do again.”
Deneen praised Gural for embracing the project “when we had a great deal of difficulty finding believers.” She said that “without the generous support of citizens like Mr. Gural, this mission could not be accomplished.”
Redder said Gural plans to go on the first local Honor Flight with his wife, Paula.
Eligible veterans fly for free. Each must be accompanied by a guardian, who pays full . That price, typically a tax-deductible $425, will be $100 for this flight, Deneen said.
As of mid-February, Deneen had registered 30 veterans for the flight. She said she’s enlisted most of them after speaking to veterans organizations across the region and at the Bath VA Medical Center, although “I find them everywhere — at the grocery store, at the, at Mass.”
Deneen, an Air National Guard veteran, said she has traced her family’s military history to the Civil and Revolutionary wars. Her late father, her uncles and two brothers served in the military, and her two sons now are in the Navy.
“In a lot of ways,” she said, “the military is my family business.”