Veterans on Wheels helping local 99-year-old veteran

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A group of Canadian Military veterans have been in Kingston since Friday to offer their services repairing and fixing up the local home of a 99-year-old Second World War veteran.

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Jan Jemiolo was in the Polish/British armies and was a two-time prisoner of war.

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According to his biography, he witnessed death and dying, suffered through a variety of injuries, sicknesses and hunger as well as witnessing unspeakable things during the war from 1940 to 1945.

When the war was over, he moved to Kingston, his initial destination, and he’s stayed here since.

Jemiolo married Anne and they had four daughters. The couple divorced many years ago and Anne died 20 years ago.

While in Kingston, Jemiolo has worked in a variety of places. One of his early jobs was at Quattrochi’s, and he has also worked at a convent and also learned to be a tailor with a tiny shop on Brock Street. He worked most of his life in construction, mostly with John Armitage at Dacon Construction, his daughter Cindy Burton said.

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Jemiolo is a proud, longtime resident of Worthington Park, and his trailer needed a few renovations to allow him to continue living on his own with visits from home care workers.

Burton arranged for a team from out of town (Veterans on Wheels) to complete the project and allow Jemiolo to continue to live in his home rather than going into long-term care.

Burton also contacted Armitage of Brookland Fine Homes, and he helped arrange the group to do the work and reached out to the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce and other partners to recruit additional contributors.

Armitage knew Jemiolo when they both worked at Dacon.

Veterans on Wheels is performing a variety of tasks, including shoring up the floor of his 1,000-square-foot, two bedroom trailer home in Worthington Park and removing old carpet, installing new luxury vinyl throughout the home, repairing the plumbing, doing some general repairs around the home and installing some new and gently used appliances.

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The volunteers have skills in home renovation and also are mechanics and masons.

“We’re all jack of all trades guys,” Jamie Gallant said.

“He really wants to stay in his own home,” said Tom Murphy of Killaloe, a member of Veterans on Wheels.

“This is definitely the biggest job we’ve taken on,” Jake Spinney of Nova Scotia said.

Veteran Spinney said Armitage inspected the home and deemed it unsafe prior to the group’s arrival.

The home had a hole in the hallway leading to the bedroom that Jemiolo could have fallen through.

Spinney said Armitage did a lot of organizing before the group arrived in Kingston, providing materials for the work, hotel rooms and food for the volunteers, among other arrangements.

“He made it happen. What a guy,” Spinney said. “I don’t have the right words to say about John. He’s killing it.”

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“If he’s willing to do that, we can come and help, too,” Gallant said.

Group member Tom Murphy agreed there’s a bond between veterans, even if they are born decades apart.

“There’s a brotherhood, a camaraderie. It’s something you can’t really describe in words. It’s giving me chills just thinking about it,” he said.

It’s a tighter bond than players on sports teams, Murphy said. “When your life is on the line, it’s a little different.”

“I have the utmost respect for a gentleman like that; he’s the definition of a warrior to me. To survive two prisoner of war camps, a Communist and Nazi camp, and then to be sitting here today, there isn’t words you can put to that, either.”

Murphy served in the armoured corps in the Royal Canadian Dragoons in Petawawa from 2016 to 2021 and had one deployment to Latavia on Operation Assurance.

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“The things that my father and his family faced taught me that we are stronger than we think,” Burton wrote in an email. “It also taught me that standing up against tyranny and corruption rarely comes without a price, but in the end, it must be done.”

“My sister Sharron and I are overwhelmed by the incredible efforts of the folks at Veterans on Wheels, and at the outpouring of support from all over the community. So many people just stepping up, without reservation. It’s like watching a miracle unfold,” Burton said.

“This magical project, that started with fixing a few things to keep an old man safe in his home, has turned into a miracle that has included many. We are beyond grateful.”

“Thank you. I appreciate everything they do,” Jemiolo said.



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