By Chris Miller
Former USO of Illinois Volunteers of the Year Bob and Jeanie Quinn really know the meaning of supporting the military.
For almost 15 years they have dedicated their time and efforts to the O'Hare Airport Terminal 2 USO Center – but it goes way beyond that. As parents of service members themselves, they treat every single person who comes into the center like they are part of their own family.
“Our daughter Kerry, an Air Force logistics officer, had served in Iraq in 2003,” Bob said. “Our other daughter Kelly and her husband were Army reservists at the time and Kelly later spent a year at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan as an intensive care unit (ICU)/ trauma nurse. Through them, we knew [and learned] the importance of the USO to our family, be it a cot and a cookie at an airport, or a smile and some R&R on post.”
Because of the experiences their daughters had at the USO, in early 2006, the Quinns walked into the O’Hare Airport USO and asked the center director how they could sign up to volunteer.
Their appreciation and involvement have grown over the years and the USO has become an important and rewarding part of their lives.
“We have shared smiles and tears, said ‘stay safe,’ or ‘see you when you come back’ or ‘welcome home’ to hundreds of our nation’s finest,” Jeanie said.
One way the Quinns have been supporting the military is through soliciting donations. In 2008, they approached several local bakeries and food markets near their home in Wilmette, a suburb of Chicago, in hopes that they could get them to donate to the USO.
“We started out with two local bakeries, picking up bagels, baked goods and prepared foods,” Bob said. “We now have four locations that donate and in 2018, after 10 years of picking up donations, we have delivered over $500,000 in food donations to our USO. We’re still at it and hoping to continue our goal of reaching the $1 million mark once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.”
These donated, fresh-baked goods, brought every week by the Quinns, enhance the USO’s mission of providing a “home away from home” for the troops and their families. It also connects the military to the community by working with local businesses to provide the best food possible.
Not only do the Quinns volunteer in the center and pick up donations, they are also part of a very special group of volunteers at O’Hare: those who support and comfort Families of the Fallen. In 2012 they had completed a scheduled mandatory training for this detail and then just two days later they were assigned to assist a Gold Star Family coming through O’Hare.
“Coincidentally, our son-in-law had been assigned as the Casualty Assistance Officer and was accompanying the family from Central Wisconsin through O’Hare to Dover,” Jeanie said.
We made sure the family was taken care of, from the moment they stepped off the plane until boarding their next one. Because of our involvement with this family, we have kept in touch with some of the family members, and our daughter and son-in-law have become close friends with the family.
It’s not out of the ordinary for the Quinns to just go above and beyond their normal volunteer duties.
Early in their volunteering experience, they answered a phone call that was patched through from Iraq. An Army officer, due to return home soon, was asking for help. His family’s adoption of a little girl had been finalized while he was deployed, so he and his little daughter had never met in person.
“He wanted to greet her with a gigantic teddy bear when he met her at baggage claim at O’Hare,” Jeanie said. “To make it happen, we had a HUGE bear delivered to our home. We got it to him at the airport so he had it for his new daughter when they met for the first time. Of course, we watched from a distance, with happy hearts and teary eyes!”
The Quinns know they are not unique. From their years as volunteers they know that every USO volunteer is just as caring and dedicated as they are.
“We are all hoping to give a little bit of comfort to those who give so much,” Jeanie said. “Working with the people we work with and serving those who serve is a treasured experience. It’s part of our lives and we love what we do.”
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