“Look them in the eye and be there to receive what they have to give.”
This sentiment carries WVA Commander June Nina Panzeri along on her weekly visits with women veterans that are patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital, 800 Poly Place.
It’s also the common-sense approach she’s used for most of her 90 plus years.
Panzeri volunteers her time and is one of the founding members of the Women Veterans of America.
Founded in 1991, the group has approximately 40 members – seven of which are active. These women provide comfort, a hug and sometimes just an ear to listen. They also provide practical assistance to the female vet patients in obtaining insurance information and how to go about receiving the benefits that they are entitled to.
Although Panzeri has slowed down of late — she gave up driving about five years ago and, she added, “arthritis and my bones slow me down” — she still manages to hop onto an Access-A-Ride van and visit the women at least once a week at the military hospital.
Each member pays $15 a year in dues and most of the time the funds are used to buy things for the patients. With only dues money, the group sometimes runs flea markets to add to the volunteer coffers.
Panzeri was born in Chicago to a musician father and a high diver mom. “We stayed there just long enough for me to be born,” she said. They then moved to Brooklyn where her mom died at 28, leaving four-year-old Panzeri with her father and brother. She added, “I was boarded with other families that my father paid to take care of me, until I finally ran away when I was about nine right to my father’s store on 9th Street between 4 and 5th avenues in Park Slope where I remained.”
Panzeri attended St. Thomas Aquinas school in Park Slope, then Girls Commercial HS and then a short stint at NYU for about a year. She had to give it up she said, “Because working and school work was just too much.”
Prior to enlisting in the Army in February 1942, she worked as a transcript stenographer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for General Court Martial for three years.
While in the military she was trained as an X-Ray Technician in William Beaumont General Hospital in Texas and spent the two-and-a-half years of her service in various hospitals throughout the United States.
Upon discharge she returned to Brooklyn and began working for Abraham and Strauss on Fulton Street, where she stayed for 28 years and retired in the 1970’s. Her duties were varied and as she said, “I liked it that way. I enjoyed the diversity.”
Not letting moss grow under her feet, when she retired in 1973, she packed her bags and moved to Florida, where, after two spinal surgeries, joined a dance group through the Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce Florida, and began performing tap, dance and a mock strip routine throughout the State.
She stayed there for 11 years until the 80’s when a health crisis brought her back to Brooklyn. She said, “I wanted to be closer to my brother and father, my family, just in case.”
Her bones might have slowed her down a bit, but nothing has slowed her sharp and entertaining wit. During our conversation she regaled me with enough stories to fill a book.
She added that she had an aunt that liked to sew sequins on her petticoats. She said, “Last year I traveled to Atlantic City for a workshop, while I was there I sewed some sequins on my petticoat, and joked with the members, ‘for a dime you can take a peak at my sequins.’” She joked that she almost came home broke, but on the last day, one gentleman approached her with a wad of bills and said, “Now you can show me your sequins.”
She’s no stranger to public admiration either, Comptroller Thomas presented her, on board the Intrepid, along with other volunteers, a commendation for her tireless dedication to the veterans.
She added at the end of our interview that the group is in need of some “young blood” to take the reins and sign up to volunteer.
She added if anyone out there is interested in volunteering their time, give her a call at 718-837-0556 or drop by 800 Poly Place, Room 7-324 West Wing.
Who knows, you might get lucky and she just might be wearing those sequined petticoats.