McDowell Village celebrates its Honor Wall

McDowell Village Executive Director Michael Brown is flanked by resident veterans Steve Jacobs, left, and Ron Williams.

McDowell Village residents Steve Jacobs and Ron Williams both donned their most patriotic garb on July 5.

 Jacobs proudly wore a patriotic button-up depicting a bald eagle soaring over an American flag, and Williams opted for an American flag tie that popped against his otherwise all-white, monochromatic attire.

But Jacobs and Williams weren’t dressed to the nines for some post-Fourth of July celebration. This was the day of McDowell Village’s highly anticipated Honor Wall unveiling and festivities. 

The Honor Wall was a project spearheaded by Executive Director Michael Brown, who joined McDowell Village in March. 

Of the more than 200 residents at the assisted living facility, 53 are veterans, including Jacobs and Williams, and Brown wanted to recognize the veterans with a grand gesture – one that elicited “oohs” and “aahs” the moment the Honor Wall was revealed to the rows upon rows of resident veterans and their spouses, friends and family. 

“Our veterans deserve our recognition, respect and gratitude,” Brown said. “There is no better time to extend our sincere thanks to the McDowell Village residents who have served the various branches of the U.S. military.”

The Honor Wall spans 22 feet, and all five of the U.S. Military Branches – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard – are represented, as well as the National Guard and British Royal Navy.

“I’m very pleased,” Williams said of the Honor Wall. “I didn’t think that the National Guard would be acceptable [for the Honor Wall], not being in the real Army.”

Williams was a Staff Sergeant in the National Guard.

Servicemen and women from nearly all ranks were recognized on the wall, which will remain in McDowell Village as a long-standing tribute to resident veterans for their selfless service and sacrifice.

“Oh, it’s wonderful,” said Steve Jacobs, an Air Force veteran who served from 1952 to 1956, as he admired his plaque.

Both Jacobs and Williams were appreciative of the efforts that went into the Honor Wall, which depicted photos of each resident veteran from when they served and today, as well as the branch they served and length of service. 

Jacobs gestured at the photo of 20-year-old him. 

“I don’t look like that anymore,” he said with a laugh.

Jacobs joined the Air Force during his second year of college. The Korean War began two years prior.

“I thought it’d be better off to go into the Air Force and do something I prefer to do than to go into the Army and be drafted,” he said.

Jacobs went on to become a weather forecaster at an Air Force base in southern Illinois, and then he attended flight training school in Texas.

Following, Jacobs moved to the Washington, D.C. area and worked as a code breaker.

“I was stationed in the same building with CIA,” he recalled. “I really enjoyed the code breaking.  It was very intriguing. It’s like you’re doing [crossword puzzles] full-time.” 

Williams served in the military around the same time, from 1950 to 1957.

He originally joined, however, to play the trombone in the military band, but that was short-lived.

“The money went away I guess or something and everybody in the band became a medic. So that’s what I did the rest of the time,” Williams said.

Brown and the McDowell Village staff spent about a month gathering photos, service dates and other information from the veterans and their respective families. 

“They didn’t talk much about the honor wall. It was a secret,” Jacobs said.

Before the unveiling, the wall was hidden behind a navy blue-hued fabric that shimmered as the light hit it. 

In attendance at the Honor Wall celebration was City of Scottsdale Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp and nominee for state representative in Arizona’s 6th legislative district Walter Blackman.

Blackman served 21 years in the Army.

“Everything you did while you served set guys like me up for success in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Every lesson you learned in World War II or Korean or Vietnam was a lesson applied on the battlefields of Iraq,” he told the resident veterans in attendance.

“I’m sitting here today because something you did could have possibly saved my life, and I want to thank you for that. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sacrifice to this country,” Blackman added.

Klapp called the Honor Wall a “great example” of ways to recognize veterans.

“I appreciate the service and the contributions each and every one of you made for this country,” she said. “My hope is that as time goes on, you will share some of your stories with me and with other people. … I hope that you understand how much we appreciate each and every one of you.”

The Honor Wall festivities also included a color guard presentation and an award ceremony following the unveiling, where veterans and spouses received certificates of appreciation signed by Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane.

Jacobs has been a resident of McDowell Village for over three years; in August, it’ll be four.

He said McDowell Village has, by far, the best food and activities and the nicest people and atmosphere. 

“As soon as you walk in the front door, you realize that it’s an active place and it’s bright. We went to half a dozen places that were beautifully decorated, but they were gloomy. It was like walking into a funeral home,” Jacobs said.

Williams, who has been a resident at McDowell Village for 20 months, is an active member of the community. 

He organized the pinochle players group, and he sings every Sunday at the church located upstairs.

“My son took me here. We had three visitations set up for me, and this was the first one, and that’s as far as I got. I really liked it. They take care of the details of life. You don’t have to worry about much,” Williams said.

McDowell Village, owned and operated by MBK Senior Living, is southern Scottsdale’s only resort-style senior living community. 

It is located adjacent to the Granite Reef Senior Center and offers high-end services and amenities to encourage an active lifestyle. 

“When I get older and can finally relax, I hope someone does something like this for me,” Blackman said of the Honor Wall. “Your service is not forgotten.”