Veterans Gather Together at The Highground’s Winter Veterans Retreat

The Highground hosted its second annual Winter Retreat February 3-5. Both male and female Veterans who served in different combat and era campaigns—from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War—were introduced to unique indoor and outdoor activities. These ventures were designed to promote mental health growth through creativity, indulging the senses, reflection and physical movement. Many people experience progressive struggles with mental health issues, isolation and lack of physical activity during the winter months, which makes this Winter Retreat an especially important event.

Creative workshops guided by Bonnie Pettis, Event Coordinator at The Highground, were very popular with the group. Bonnie demonstrated how hands-on artistic activities like painting a winter scene and making chocolate truffles can be powerful tools promoting focus, stress relief, joy and the satisfaction of easily creating items that may look hard to do. The group encouraged each other and had a great time. Many delicious chocolate truffles mysteriously disappeared during the workshop.

Veterans ice fishing on Lake Mead during the 2023 Winter Veterans Retreat.

Veterans joined the ice fishing excursion Saturday morning on Mead Lake, expertly organized and guided by Marine Veteran Skip Klabon with the assistance of Dick Jacobson, Chad Klabon and Clint Pope. This was the first time ice fishing for many of the Veterans. Big Bear Down Sport Shop of Abbotsford, Wis. (bigbeardown.com) generously donated live bait for each Veteran.  

As a way to give back and welcome Veterans home, Henry Smith of Greenwood, Wis., demonstrated his woodworking skills by creating unique walking sticks.  Henry personalized and presented a walking stick to each of the new Veterans. 

With the assistance of Spring Street Sports in Chippewa Falls, Wis., (springstreetsports.com) The Highground purchased snowshoes (to have on hand for future winter retreats) and rented several pairs for the Veterans to use on the 4.5 miles of wooded trails at the park. Snowshoeing is one of the more accessible physical activities that people can enjoy in the winter. Studies have shown that spending just two hours a week outdoors can have a mental health boosting effect that lasts for a week. The Veterans got that much-needed boost by snowshoeing around The Highground and its trail system throughout the weekend. 

PTS management conversations are an important part of all the retreats and with the assistance of Marine Veteran Scott Schultz of The Heartbeat Center for Writing, Literacy and the Arts, Veterans engaged in a journaling topic on Saturday afternoon that was impactful and healing. Veterans were given effective tools to improve their communication with friends, family and other Veterans. Being able to communicate in a healthy manner about PTS and other struggles is paramount to moving forward in PTS management and better personal relationships.

The opportunity for Veterans to gather together and learn new skills / creative hobbies is important any time of year. It is especially helpful to be active, both socially and physically, in the winter as struggles with mental health issues can become more intense during periods of low or no sunlight and seclusion. The intent of this retreat is to offer a socially interactive event for Veterans that includes instruction and experience with activities that Veterans will be able to continue with in their personal lives. Veterans left the Winter Veterans Retreat with “goodie bags” of items to help them with that, including ice fishing gear, PTS management books for Veterans and families, painting and other art supplies, journals, headlamps, compasses, retreat t-shirts and more. Of course, the Veterans also took home their painted “winter scene” canvases and boxes of chocolate truffles. Veterans are encouraged to stay in contact with each other and with The Highground through private social media groups and phone calls. The Highground staff also looks forward to personal visits.

The success of the Veterans Retreats offered by The Highground relies on the generous support of organizations and individuals. Funding for this Winter Veterans Retreat was provided by grants awarded from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the Million Dollar Round Table. Generous donors supporting The Highground’s Veterans Retreat program include The National Society of the Dames of the Court of Honor, Maureen Hornung, the Kokosz family and everyone who participated in The Highground’s 10th Annual Winter Bowl. A very special “thank you” goes out to Bonnie Henchen who planned, prepped and created all the homemade meals for the three-day retreat. The Moraine Motel and Speakeasy Restaurant, both local businesses, helped the retreat go smoothly with excellent customer service. Kevin Oldham of Greenwood helped secure transportation for the ice fishing excursion.

The Highground has already started planning the 3rd Annual Winter Retreat for February 2-4, 2024. If you are a business that specializes in winter outdoor activities and would like to be a part of the 2024 event, or if you would like to make a donation in support of the Veterans Retreats, please email Theresa at museum@thehighground.us or call 715-743-4224.

The Highground is located at W7031 Ridge Rd, Neillsville WI 54456. thehighground.us.