An emotional dedication of Lundman clinic

Havre Daily News

by Tim Leeds

The dedication of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in a standingroom only ceremony was an emotional time for many, especially the score of family members of the man being honored, Merril Lundman.

Patricia Wiebe, Lundman’s sister, said she almost was overcome just walking into the room.

“It brought me to tears,” she said.

“It’s really something special.” She said she always has heard that one person can’t make a change.  Her brother showed otherwise.

“I guess one person counts,” Wiebe said.

The ceremony was planned to be held at the outpatient clinic, located in the medical complex just east of Northern Montana Hospital, but last week’s heavy rain moved the ceremony to a conference room in the hospital.

The clinic, which opened in January 2009, was dedicated to Lundman, who is credited with the drive that led to its creation.

Lundman, who had to travel from Havre to Great Falls to use his government- subsidized veteran’s medical benefits, revived the push for a Havre clinic in 2007.  He started collecting letters and signatures after Havre was passed over for a new clinic, although clinics Were approved in Lewistown and Cut Bank.

Lundman collected signatures from communities along miles of the Hi-Line, letters in support of his effort from local business and political leaders, and started calling and writing state and federal Veterans Affairs officials, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Montana’s Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Rep.  Denny Rehberg.

Tester, who spoke at the dedication, said Lundman proved a point.

“I’m told all the time that you can’t make a difference.  Merril Lundman proved that wrong,” said Tester, who wrote the legislation naming the clinic in Lundman’s honor.  “Now, he may not have known that before he passed away, but everybody in this room knows it today.” The room was filled with Lundman’s family members, officials from veterans organizations, representatives of the VA and with veterans themselves.

Warren Matt of Fort Belknap, himself a veteran who uses the Havre clinic, prayed an invocation for the ceremony and Mike TalksDifferent, also of Fort Belknap, sang an honor song for all veterans of all branches of the service as well as making a benediction.

Baucus and Rehberg could not attend the ceremony, although they sent letters that were read during the dedication.

At the end of the dedication, Tester and Glen Grippen, VA regional network director, unveiled a bronze plaque which includes a photograph of Lundman while he was in the Army that will be mounted at the clinic.

Robin Korogi, director of VA Montana Healthcare, said the clinic already has made a difference.

Since it opened in 2009, 553 veterans have come to the clinic for a total of 1,540 appointments, she said, urging people to encourage all qualifying local veterans to use the facility.

Kevin Wiebe, Lundman’s nephew, said after the ceremony that he is proud of his uncle’s work.

“I think it’s wonderful.” he said.

Lundman’s brother, Marvin Lundman, said the creation of the clinic was something very important to Merril Lundman.

“He thought this was something needed very much in Havre,” he said.  “He worked very hard to do this.

During the ceremony,Tester read the statement he read on the floor of the Senate in January 2009 after the clinic opened.  It’s as true today as it was then, he said.

“Merril was not a general officer, he did not become famous in battle or wealthy in his civilian life…,” Tester read.

“People might say he was just an ordinary man who served his country in the army three years then came home to work … but because of Merri l Lundman, thousands of veterans in and around Havre, Montana, can expect to get their VA medical care a little closer to home.” Tester said the statistics prove that veterans in rural areas don’t live as long as veterans who are closer to VA facilities.  He doesn’t know if Merril knew those statistics, Tester said.

“But he sensed that his fellow veterans were getting a raw deal and he didn’t hesitate to tell the VA and his congressional delegation about it,” Tester read.  “The story of this clinic is a grassroots effort led by one man who stood up for his fellow band of brothers to make sure they could get the health care they had earned.”