A leafy canopy of tree branches arching over California Drive in Yountville provides a magical and memorable tunnel-like entrance to the Veterans Home of California in the summertime. The trees lining the entryway originally shaded visitors attending the Golden Gate Exhibition on San Francisco’s Treasure Island from 1939 to 1940. The other tall trees on the grounds comprise the largest collection of exotic trees in northern California. Many of these trees were gifts from friends of Colonel Nelson Holderman, a World War I hero and an early administrator of the home.
The Home is nestled on the slopes of the Napa Valley. A thousand men and women veterans and some non-veteran spouses call the grand campus their home. Started in 1884 by the Society of Mexican War Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic, the Home was taken over by the State of California in 1897 after a period of financial struggles.
At that time, the Home had 55 steam-heated buildings with electric lighting, running water and a sewer system. The grounds also had a successful dairy, hog farm and chicken ranch, and were home to 800 veterans of the Mexican, Civil, and Indian wars.
Today the Veterans Home receives support from the California general fund, federal reimbursements, medical insurance, MediCal and MediCare, fees from residents and donations that are used for the Morale, Welfare and Recreation of the residents. The home’s current administrator is Donald Veverka, who took over the position in 2014.
Veterans share their input and recommendations with the administrator through the Veterans’ Home Allied Council, an official advisory body that is currently chaired by home resident Don Moore. The history of the Veterans’ Home of California at Yountville was the subject of a DVD produced in 2013 by Moore titled “Pearl of the Valley.”
Places to visit on the grounds include the Napa Valley Museum and the Lincoln Theater, a world-class venue that features performances by musicians and stage actors throughout the year. The theater is home to Symphony Napa Valley. The museum and theater offer educational programs for the residents of the home and others.
Winding one’s way along the north side of the home one will find the swimming pool. This pool is operated by the Town of Yountville and is open to the residents of the home and the public in the summer.
Beyond the pool is the Cleve Borman Baseball Field. California’s American Legion baseball finals are played here each year. The field has been described as one of the ten coolest high school baseball venues in the United States by MaxPreps sports website writer Leland Gordon, who says, “We know cool when we see it.”
Legend has it that more than a dozen major league athletes played baseball here in their youth, including Dusty Baker, the one-time manager of the San Francisco Giants. Veterans are given front row seats.
On July 4th, the public is invited to celebrate Independence Day at the Home. Musicians entertain through a full day of activities. Residents and staff host booths in front of the administration building—food and other items are for sale. When darkness falls, fireworks light up the sky.
Every day of the year the chapel is open for visitors. Protestant, Catholic and Jewish services are held weekly. Guests may also attend the monthly services honoring the men and women who died at the Home the previous month. The chapel has large, brilliantly stained glass windows at the front and sides. A small stained-glass window above the entryway depicts four chaplains who, following a torpedo attacked on a transport ship during World War II, died arm-in-arm on the sinking vessel so that others could board lifeboats.
The gravesites of more than 5,500 veterans and non-veteran spouses who once lived at the home are maintained at the Veterans Home Cemetery on the grounds. Annually, a patriotic Memorial Day service is held at the cemetery that honors deceased veterans. Donated flowers are taken to the gravesites and placed as far as they will go. Among the remains at the cemetery are those of 2,308 Civil War soldiers.
Members of service clubs and veterans organizations from throughout the state volunteer their funds and time at the Home including, but not limited to, members of AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and the American Legion.
A variety of opportunities are available for groups and individuals who wish to get involved with the home. Anyone interested in giving of his or her time may contact the Volunteer Office.
Leaving the Veterans Home, when the summer breeze rustles through the trees stretching over California Drive, the wind seems to whisper a reminder to remember those who served our country.
The Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at the Lincoln Theater and the Napa Valley Museum are located right on the grounds of the Veterans Home of California at Yountville. Here are some highlights of the events offered at these cultural institutions this summer.
The Napa Valley Performing Arts Center
The Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at the Lincoln Theater hosts “BottleRock Napa Valley” starting at noon on June 1st. The three-day event features over 60 bands on four stages. On June 9th, the Lincoln Theater hosts a reading by Garrison Keillor, the “Prairie Home Companion” host and humorist at 7 p.m. The New York Times bestselling author will read from his new book, “The Keillor Reader.”
The Lincoln Theater is the venue for Napa Valley Jazz Getaway featuring “Jazz Legends Night” starting at 7 p.m. on June 12th with performances by Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, Earl Klugh, plus special guests Eric Marienthal and David Benoit. The Jazz Getaway continues on the evening of June 13th with “Friday Night Funk Night.” The entertainment begins with a silent auction benefitting the GRAMMY Foundation and complimentary wine tasting for all attendees. The auction will be followed with performances by The Ohio Players and special guest comedian Keenen Ivory Wayans from the popular show In Living Color.
Country artist and part-time Napa resident Jerry Jeff Walker appears at the Lincoln Theater at 7 p.m. on August 16th. Walker brings his band and music to the stage including hits like Mr. Bojangles for his second annual “Napa Summer Camp” show.
The Napa Valley Museum
The Napa Valley Museum will hold an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 5th, for the exhibit “Walter H. Everett: American Illustrator.” Everett worked with Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth and completed works for The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal and Colliers. His work will be on display at the museum all summer.
The museum’s opening reception for “Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper” takes place on Saturday, June 28th, with a members-only preview from 4 to 5 p.m. and a reception for the general public from 5 to 7 p.m. The show features more than 100 of Thiebaud’s work and is on loan from the University Library Gallery at California State University, Sacramento. It will be on display from June 29th through September 14th.
On July 12th from 2 to 4 p.m., the museum hosts the “Free Family Fun Day: Painting like Thiebaud.” Artist Deborah Donahower will lead families in creating ice-cream cone acrylic paintings. She’ll show parents and children how to experiment with paint strokes, form, light and shadow. On July 19th from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. the museum hosts the Cake Plate Painting Workshop with ceramicist Amy Elliot. Attendees may paint their own Thiebaud-inspired dessert plates. The fee is $25.00 for members and $35.00 for non-members. Also at the Napa Valley Museum from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on August 2nd, renowned artist Nancy Willis will teach the art of relief and monotype printing. The fee is $30.00 for museum members and $40.00 for non-members.
The museum’s Free Family Fun Day: Extreme Cupcake Decorating takes place from 2 to 4 p.m. on August 9th. To launch the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit in August, a members-only tour and reception will be held at 4 p.m. on August 16th. Director of the Library Gallery at California State University, Sacramento will lead the exhibition tour. The museum will show the film, “Kings of Pastry” on August 21st from 7 to 9 p.m. The showing is free for members and $10.00 for non-members.