Surviving Spouse Corner: Recognizing the Work of Surviving Spouses

Surviving Spouse Corner: Recognizing the Work of Surviving Spouses

“They bring new blood, fresh ideas, organizational skills, energy, creativeness, a ‘can do attitude’— they have made us a better organization.” These are the words of a chapter president about the work of surviving spouses in their local chapters and communities.


This month, we recognize the work of our local chapters and councils at MOAA’s annual meeting, honoring the recipients of the Levels of Excellence Award as well as the winners of the Colonel Steve Strobridge Legislative Chair/Liaison Award and the Surviving Spouse Liaison Excellence Award (see announcement of these winners in the October issue of Council & Chapter News).


We also want to recognize the work of several other of our brightest shining stars: Judith Thomas of Houston; Janet Oglesby of Ohio; and Cheryl Toland of Mount Rainier, Wash. 


Judith Thomas has had a long-distinguished career of working with community-service programs for veterans and their families and survivors in Colorado, Virginia, and Texas. In addition to providing information to her MOAA constituents about retiree and surviving spouse issues as surviving spouse liaison of the Houston Area Chapter, she is very active in the Vietnam War Memorial Program, having provided over 2,800 pins and certificates to surviving spouses in every state and worldwide. In addition, she presents the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin to veterans who served from 1955-75. She always keeps a few pins in her purse to present to an unsuspecting deserving veteran, whether in the grocery store, post office, restaurant, or at a MOAA meeting. She considers herself a well-seasoned Army brat, born at Fort Leavenworth; wife and now widow of a career Army officer; and mother of a currently serving Army officer (MOAA member) who continues to be an advocate for the military and for veterans and their families and survivors.


Janet Oglesby, a member of several Ohio chapters, has been instrumental in the creations and successes of these chapters. One chapter earned a 4-star Levels of Excellence Award in only its second year of existence as a result of her efforts. She and her husband were key organizers of two chapters, she edited the newsletter for another one for 10 years, designed and printed membership brochures for two chapters, and was a chapter secretary and surviving spouse liaison for another one. In addition, she served on the Ohio Council of Chapters for two years. She has been a very involved member of the Surviving Spouse Virtual Chapter since its inception. She said it has been a wonderful link for her to learn about current military issues, along with the MOAA website. Her goal in life is to help all surviving spouses work through complicated military issues, learn about their benefits, and to specifically provide assistance for those in a second marriage. 


Cheryl Toland is relatively new to the work of a surviving spouse liaison — appointed to her position in 2019. She became well-informed and busy immediately. She currently serves as third vice president of the Mount Rainier Chapter and is the representative for Wreaths Across America. She is also a member of the Governor’s Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee. She is the first person of contact for those members who have lost a spouse, providing information and support. She posts information on the chapter’s Facebook page about topics such as VA Aid and Attendance and VA caregivers support programs in addition to other VA programs of interest to her chapter members. She is currently taking classes from TAPS about their benefits and has been trained in the VA Caregiver Support Mentor program. Recently, she was appointed as the surviving spouse liaison for the Washington Council of Chapters. She says her goal is to prepare “spouses to be surviving spouses before it is time for them to be survivors.”


How lucky MOAA is to have such dedicated, knowledgeable, and caring surviving spouses to ensure that valuable information is available along with a great support system. We are confident these special surviving spouses will always shine and never stop serving. 


Read past Surviving Spouse Corners. 


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About the Author

Virginia "Gail" Joyce, Surviving Spouse
Virginia "Gail" Joyce, Surviving  Spouse

Joyce is a MOAA board member and chair of the Surviving Spouse Virtual Chapter.