NILES - "She is like a second mother to all veterans."
That is how Vietnam veteran Ken David of Niles describes Catherine "Cathy" Carney, who has devoted the last four decades to caring for servicemen and women at home.
Carney is an active and organizing member of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary Chapter in Warren. David, who serves as treasurer for the DAV works closely with Carney and has witnessed her community service first hand. He explained the nomination of Carney for a Community Star was an easy decision.
"Her heart is just out there for the veterans," David said. "She always looks out for someone else before herself."
Now in its 12th year, the Community Star program is sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull 100 and celebrates the volunteers who have had a significant influence on Trumbull County.
Though not a veteran herself, Carney noted that from an early age, she was drawn to help those entering combat.
Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary Unit 11
"Growing up in Moundsville, West Virginia, across the street from where I lived was the selective service. That's where the guys go to join. All these guys would get on the bus right in front of my house to go to World War II.
"I was only between 8 and 10 years old at the time, but I would go out and entertain the troops before they left. I always felt a connection to the guys that were going to fight our wars. That was my introduction to the veterans."
In 1955, her connection grew deeper, as she married Korean War veteran James R. "Jim" Carney Sr. The couple lived in Warren and had five sons and two daughters.
Involvement in veterans affairs began with her kids in various youth organizations, Carney said.
"It must have been the early 1970s and we started by putting flags out on Memorial Day. I had the kids all working and doing all this stuff," Carney said.
Carney's children grew up and started their own families, but her devotion to veterans stayed with her. Around 1985, she was asked to join the DAVA. "I said OK, I'll go where my husband goes," she said. "So, Jim joined the DAV and I said I would join the Auxiliary."
It didn't take long for Carney to make a memorable impact in her new role. During a visit to a local VA clinic, she brought a basket of fruit, including apples, oranges and bananas.
"It became pretty clear to me that they preferred the bananas to the harder fruit. Some can't bite down on the apples," she said. "Anyway, that was our big decision ... to bring bananas."
And Carney did just that every Wednesday for the next 26 years and continuing today.
"I pick up 40 bananas at the grocery store every Tuesday and pass them out at the clinics on Wednesday," the 78-year-old who is known as the "banana lady" said.
For years, she and other members of the DAVA would treat the veterans to the fruit with money out of their own pockets. The DAV now helps her cause.
"They started giving me $25 a month for bananas," she said.
However, David noted that it doesn't matter if the money stretches far enough, Carney makes sure the veterans are taken care of.
"Whether there was enough money collected or not, she always buys those 40 bananas," David said. "That seems to be the number passed out at the VA clinic. We now make sure to give her $25 on top of that, just to make sure she has enough money for the bananas."
Every December, Carney and the DAV head to the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky. According to David, there are usually between 75 and 100 veterans awaiting the group.
"Cathy makes the rounds and makes sure everyone is taken care of," he said.
She also brings with her Christmas cards, including postage stamps, and homemade cookies.
"We take all the cookies we can get and all the Christmas cards we can get," Carney said. "This year, we were over abundant, because Mahoning County helped us out too, with the DAV down there. We ended up with over 200 different kinds of homemade cookies."
Carney has started applying the greeting card giveaways to her regular local routine in the area. She and the other women in the Auxiliary collect cards, write notes in each, and give them to local veterans in nursing homes.
"We delivered almost 300 different cards to the homes around here," Carney said. "These veterans, for some of them this is the only mail they get. They look forward to it."
She has heard from friends and family of the veterans just how much the personal touch means to them.
"One lady told us she was so happy we were sending those cards," Carney said. "Every time she would go in, he would have a new card out. When he passed away, she was so thankful. There are just so many stories."
Carney lives in Niles with her husband, Jim. They have seven children, James Jr., Dewaine, Thomas, Robin, Eugene, Keith and Teresa. She worked as a manager for McCrory Store in Youngstown for 22 years before retiring. She is recognized as the commander of the DAVA Unit 11.