Articles, activities for boomers & seniors
Recapturing the selflessness that built America Based on an interview by Douglas Graves
“It would seem as if the rulers of our time sought only to use men in order to make things great; I wish that they would try a little more to make great men; that they would set less value on the work and more upon the workman; that they would never forget that a nation cannot long remain strong when every man belonging to it is individually weak; and that no form or combination of social polity has yet been devised to make an energetic people out of a community of pusillanimous and enfeebled citizens” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America Volume 2).
Many have endured 2020 with much consternation. COVID, social unrest, and a divisive presidential campaign, have unmasked the anxieties of a self-absorbed culture. Much has changed from 60 years ago, when a young president’s inaugural speech cemented his iconic status: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." While this altruism seems to have since retired, it is not dead yet.
There is a silent group diligently laboring to improve the lives of many Americans. This group is fueled by the efforts and passions of those who desire to put others first. Such is the case of Major General Gerald C. Still, president of the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council (LVMAC).
After an impressive career in the U.S. Air Force that took him from being Chief Warrant Officer to Major General traveling all over the world, he remains all about service to others — service is what makes him tick.
Still is president of the 188-member LVMAC, which fuels his devotion to serving his fellow veterans. Its membership is comprised of organizations — both commercial and service — that want to support local military members and their families and veterans.
The mission of LVMAC is to improve the lives of local active-duty and reserve military folks, as well as local veterans and their families, by fostering and coordinating support from businesses, organizations, institutions, and communities, and by promoting awareness of the military’s role in defending America through educational programs and public events.
Although the pandemic has forced LVMAC to curtail the well-attended business meetings and luncheons in a Hellertown nursing home, a local church is currently hosting business meetings, and the larger events that usually include a guest speaker have been postponed.
But that doesn’t dampen Still’s enthusiasm for the service that LVMAC provides. “We have an active scholarship program,” says Still, talking about money available to the high school children of veterans and veterans themselves if they go back to school after their service.
One strong program LVMAC supports is the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in the Allentown school district. Members of Dieruff High School and William Allen High School can apply for the program. About 25 or 30 students have received LVMAC scholarships and succeeded. Still had the honor of pinning second lieutenant bars on one of the students at Penn State.
People who know this long-serving officer and veteran don’t hesitate to express their admiration for him. For example, one of the LVMAC staff said, “There is a consistency about the way he conducts meetings that people really appreciate,” talking about Still’s reverence for the American flag and his adherence to having an opening prayer. “His passion for serving others is very clear.”
The unique needs of veterans who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) are also on Still’s mind. “We have connections with some horse owners that allow veterans to work with, and even ride, their horses,” said Still. Another way to get wounded veterans involved in recreational and therapeutic activities, like fly-fishing, is through Hokendauqua Chapter #535 of Trout Unlimited, according to Still.
Membership in LVMAC does not require dues or fees, and is open only to organizations that want to support the mission of LVMAC. General Still is looking for people of action, willing to physically support the many and varied activities designed to support veterans.
LVMAC is an umbrella organization. “Many of these organizations have the same goals,” Still says. “It’s open to any organization that subscribes to the mission of LVMAC and supports it. Basically, if they are going to join, we’re looking for people who are going to be active, or at least participate in one way or another. That is, come to meetings or be willing to support the activities that we have.”
He said organizations are the members, not individuals. These organizations provide individuals who are willing to show up and participate. “Veteran visitations in the different homes and that type of stuff — we do that,” said Still, describing the kinds of service that members can expect.
LVMAC is non-political and does not participate in partisan activities, but that does not mean non-patriotic, since the organization has deep roots in the military traditions of the Lehigh Valley. It was founded by members of the Honorary First Defenders, a local military service organization with traditions going back to the Civil War. Flag Day is one of Still’s favorite traditions that is supported by LVMAC.
Still is also involved in docent duties in two historical properties: Liberty Bell Museum in Allentown, and Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook, NJ, where he is helping to restore a shore defense battery.
Still is active in the Air Force Association, Civil Air Patrol, and other organizations, including Advent Moravian Church. He is active in the Lehigh Valley Veteran’s History Project and the Allentown Chapter of the Honorary First Defenders.
Still is a Vietnam veteran but does not dwell on his military achievements. His awards include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Air Force Combat Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palms, and the Campaign Medal.
Additionally, his German language skills (learned from his family) qualified him to be immersed in classified work in Germany during the Cold War.
Major General Still is a Lehigh Valley native, born in Bethlehem and a graduate of Allentown High School. He has BA degrees in both English and German from Moravian College and an MA in philology from the University of Heidelberg. He married Erika Nimis, and they have two children and three grandchildren.
Still is optimistic about the future of LVMAC. “There are many talented people out there. We just need to get them involved and trained so we can continue to grow and have a greater impact.” General Still, like many of the dedicated volunteers at LVMAC, embodies the can-do spirit and selflessness necessary to restore harmony and move forward as a nation. To learn more about LVMAC and to get involved, visit lv-mac.org.