By Lyndsie Kiebert
Ron McIlnay is known among his Bonners Ferry neighbors as a Vietnam veteran who works tirelessly to make sure his fellow servicemen and women have what they need. For all of his efforts — both for his country and to the North Idaho community — McIlnay received the 2019 Spirit of Freedom Service award from Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo.
Karen Roetter, the regional director for Crapo’s Coeur d’Alene office, presented McIlnay the award on Nov. 11 at the Veterans Memorial Plaza in Bonners Ferry in front of a crowd of nearly 100 people. Roetter listed the many ways McIlnay has supported local veterans, from assisting with car repairs to helping families prepare for funerals.
According to McIlnay, none of what he does would be possible without the help of other local veterans and the community at large.
“I like thinking of myself as a messenger,” he told the Reader. “I want everybody in Bonners Ferry and Boundary County to be my eyes and ears and to let me know — is there a vet in trouble? … I can’t guarantee that we can help, but we have been able to help.”
Crapo honored 28 veterans this year, bringing the grand total of Spirit of Freedom Award winners to 313 since its inception in 2002. A number of veterans’ organizations are responsible for making nominations for the award, including the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Idaho State Veterans Assistance League, Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, Idaho State Veterans Homes, Lewis Clark Valley Veterans Council, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida, Veteran Students Services at Idaho State University, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and and Vietnam Veterans of America.
McIlnay serves as a VVA Sandpoint chapter board member, VFW Bonners Ferry chapter trustee and ride captain for the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group.
“The Spirit of Freedom Awards recognize veterans and volunteers who set an example of leadership and service in our communities and across our state,” Crapo said in a press release announcing the 2019 award recipients. “Time and time again, I meet veterans who not only gave tremendously in service to our nation, but also continue to give their time, talents and treasure to supporting their fellow veterans and others. I welcome the opportunity to express gratitude for this exemplary service by honoring these patriots who have served and continue to serve our country, Idaho and their local communities.”
McIlnay said the award was unexpected and he is honored to be recognized — but his dedication to fellow veterans won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
“Tomorrow is another day,” he said. “We had our awards, we had our this and that, now let’s get back to the business of helping vets.”
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