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The Dash Between: Velva Mihalis baked cookies for hospitalized vets

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According to local veterans groups and Mihalis family lore, Velva Mihalis baked so many raisin-filled and Tollhouse cookies for hospitalized veterans that she wore out an oven.

Velva and fellow members of various veterans organizations, including Thomas Mihalis Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1079 which was named for her husband, faithfully delivered homemade cookies, fun and comfort to veterans at what are now the Cleveland VA Medical Center in Brecksville and the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky.

“We took 220 dozen cookies for one ‘Treat,’ ” said Wilma Zech of the Post 1079 Auxiliary in Elyria. “We didn’t have little plastic baggies. We wrapped three cookies in wax paper like a package of meat.”

More photos below.

Packages also featured bananas, oranges and apples, as well as cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco. “Treats” visits also included bingo games and personal conversations.

“Most of the time, we’d stop in to each and every room,” Zech said. “We’d talk to the veteran, find out what they needed.”

Velva, who died May 14, 2010, at age 97, served as president of auxiliaries for the Disabled American Veterans, Elyria VFW and District Nine VFW auxiliaries, which encompasses five counties.

“She didn’t drive, so the year she was the district president, I drove her to all the inspections,” said her daughter, Helen Resar.

The Dash Between:

About this feature

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas.

Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between February 11, 1913, when Velva Mihalis was born in Pleasant City, Ohio, and May 14, 2010, when the Grafton resident died at Center Ridge Nursing Home in North Ridgeville at age 97.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Chronicle every other Sunday.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com.

Read more:

Velva adopted her husband’s zeal for helping veterans.

Tom, who had been gassed while serving with the Army Infantry in France during World War I, witnessed the loneliness of many servicemen, who were confined to hospitals with him after the “War to End All Wars.”

“I wanted in some way to help brighten their many lonely hours,” he told a reporter in 1968.

By the time a second world war sent veterans to the Brecksville hospital and the Sandusky Soldiers and Sailors Home, Tom and Velva made it their mission to let wounded veterans know they were not forgotten.

That mission lasted through wars in Korea and Vietnam. Velva’s work for veterans went further.

“I remember Poppy Days,” Velva’s daughter said. “We’d get up early to be at the factories for the morning shift change. Then she would stand on Broad Street all day long selling poppies. She and my dad were usually the high sellers.”

Velva also worked in the kitchen for fundraising and celebratory dinners.

“Whenever we had a function, you didn’t have to wonder whether she’d be there,” Zech said. “In her 80s, if we needed someone to fill a chairmanship, she’d do it. If we had a question, I could go to her. If she didn’t have the answer, she knew where to go to get it.

“I looked up to her. She worked so hard to keep the auxiliary going for so many years.”

She was born Velva Mae Cross on February 11, 1913, the second eldest of six siblings in Pleasant City in southeastern Ohio, 10 miles south of Cambridge.

“They didn’t have much down there,” said Velva’s daughter. “My grandfather was living, but was not there when she was young.”

Her mother took in washing to support the family.

Velva’s formal education ended before she could start high school. At 17, she sought work in Elyria, where her aunt and uncle lived. Most of her immediate family eventually followed.

Velva found a job at a restaurant on Broad Street near the Sanitary Barbershop run by Tom Mihalis, a Greek immigrant, who was 16 years her senior and totally smitten.

Following a brief courtship, they were married on Aug. 20, 1930, in a civil ceremony at the courthouse in Medina with two courthouse employees serving as witnesses.

It is unclear whether they had planned the quiet wedding or had made an impromptu decision to tie the knot while driving through Medina.

A newspaper account of April 29, 1931, when the pastor of the Greek Orthodox church in Lorain performed a religious wedding ceremony at Maccabees Hall on West Broad St. in Elyria in front of 60 guests, suggests the couple had been keeping their marriage a secret.

When the Mihalises moved into their little white house on the hill on Grafton Road, where they raised their four kids, Helen, John, Ron and Thomas K., they joined LaPorte United Methodist Church.

“She used to walk to church, when we were little, and Papa stayed home and took care of the kids,” their daughter said.

Tom died March 17, 1979. Their son, Thomas K., died seven months later on October 4, 1979, as the result of a motorcycle accident.

In her later years, while contemplating her own death, Velva told her kids that she had only two wishes: To be taken to the LaPorte church for her funeral and to be wearing her past president’s pin from the VFW Post 1079 Ladies Auxiliary.

Veterans groups got together to conduct a memorial service for her at Bauer-Laubenthal-Mercado Funeral Home in Elyria.

“We sang ‘Amazing Grace’ along with ‘In the Garden’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross’,” Zech said. “When we were wrapping cookies, she liked to hum hymns. It was contagious.

“She was VFW through and through.”

Contact Alana Baranick at (216) 862-2617 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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