History Wall in VA Medical Center unveiled and open for public viewing

Medical Center Director Barbara Oemcke unveils the first panel during the unveiling ceremony of the VA Hospital History Wall Monday in the main hospital building in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Medical Center Director Barbara Oemcke unveils the first panel during the unveiling ceremony of the VA Hospital History Wall Monday in the main hospital building in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

To visit: The History Wall is available for viewing by the public during regular business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Bob Stump Medical Center. For more information, contact Public Affairs Officer Mary Dillinger at 928-717-7587.

A long corridor in the VA’s Bob Stump Medical Center, colloquially known as the “Miracle Mile” as it harkens back to the days when it was the main route in and out for tuberculosis patients, has been transformed from a blank space painted an institutional green into a history exhibit.

On Monday morning, the Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System leadership, staff and veteran patients gathered to celebrate what has been a more than two-year project – the unveiling of seven history panels and two digital displays that chronicle the federal VA history and local VA history from the time of Fort Whipple to other significant highpoints. The center panel pays tribute to women veterans, and one of the panel highlights such things as the filming of the 1992 Jean-Claude Van Damme movie “Universal Soldiers” on the VA premises.

NAVACHS today is a 164-acre main campus off Highway 89 with another 11 other community, outreach or mobile clinics to serve its 26,000 veterans over 60,000 square miles. The VA offers everything from emergency and long-term care to diagnostic procedures, pharmaceutical prescriptions, a dental clinic and a large array of counseling and therapeutic services in a now year-old, $7 million mental health complex. The VA, too, has done some recent groundbreakings for additional medical services.

VA Medical Director Barbara Oemcke described the seven panel display that incorporates photographs, two-dimensional military symbols and logos, and text in different colored section on lacquered, dark brown panels as a “labor of love.” The hundreds of hours of research that went into this exhibit, with the help of the Sharlot Hall Museum and other contributors, has created what Oemcke described as a “community treasure.”

The exhibit that cost just over $4,000 is open to not only veterans who come to the campus for care, but to anyone in the community who wishes to view them and learn more about the local VA’s role in Prescott and beyond.

“This is very meaningful to us as a community,” Oemcke said, crediting Public Affairs Officer Mary Dillinger and Health Systems Specialist to the Chief of Staff Worcester Bong for the inspiration and implementation.

“It’s beautiful,” said VA Chief of Social Work Rudy Rideout. “You can learn all of the history, and it’s a lot of history.”

Larry Curell, owner of Better Deal Printing, LLC, admits he is proud of the outcome.

“It’s kind of cool,” Curell said after the staff unveiled and explained each of the various panels during the half-hour ceremony complete with refreshments. “It was a fun project.”

“It’s fantastic,” agreed Stephen Matola of Prescott, noting it is an exhibit that will appeal to veterans and non-veterans alike.

VA historian Darlene Richardson was equally delighted.

“This turned out so well. I’m so glad to see it come to fruition,” she declared of the project that also required repainting the entire area and installing new emblems for each branch of the service on a separate wall under the title “Our Heroes.”

Sharlot Hall Executive Director Fred Veil said he was glad the museum was able to collaborate, and he said on his “speed reading” stroll down the panels he learned information he never knew before.

One of the panels is devoted to Bob Stump, identified as a “veteran’s veteran” and “quintessential advocate” who after World War II service devoted 25 years to representing this state and its veterans in Washington, D.C. The main medical facility is named in his honor.

“I’m finding it very interesting,” Veil said.

The VA’s Women Veteran Program Manager Susan Johnson Molina said the exhibit is “absolutely gorgeous” with her particular delight that an entire panel is devoted to the military’s “invisible” heroes.

Until the early 1970s, the military service of women in all branches was virtually unrecognized, the panel states. In the military today, 15 percent of all Armed Forces are women; 19 percent in the National Guard and 20 percent of all new recruits are women, Molina said.

“I love it. It turned out even better than I imagined,” Dillinger concluded.

Editor's note - This article has been corrected to state that Larry Curell is the owner of Better Deal Printing, LLC. The graphic designer of the wall was Tammy Bowman of Better Deal Printing.