Michelle Quisenberry Ewing always knew she wanted to give back to military veterans like her father and grandfather.
"Veterans have given so much support to this country," she said. "We wouldn't live in this beautiful country and enjoy all of these freedoms if it weren't for their service to us."
After graduating from Franklin County High School in 1989, Ewing headed to Eastern Kentucky University, where she received a degree in therapeutic recreation. She completed a college internship at Thomson-Hood Veterans Center — the same facility that made her a full-time therapeutic recreation specialist a year later. Ewing would go on to spend the entirety of her career assisting veterans at the facility in Wilmore.
As therapeutic recreation specialist and activities director, Ewing, who retired June 1, was responsible for enhancing the mental and physical states of veterans who lived in the long-term care center. She planned parties, gathered supplies residents needed, helped them stay in contact with their families, and many other daily tasks.
"I would read them the news, organize exercise groups or various leisure activities," said Ewing. "Every day, my goal was to enhance or maintain the physical, social, spiritual and mental well-being of the veterans.
Ewing also organized award ceremonies to honor veterans who had yet to receive their military medals.
"After the World Wars, there was a major lack of metal," she said. "So many veterans didn't ever receive their medals."
Every four months, Ewing would arrange an official awards ceremony for 25 veterans who had never received their accolades. For this, the Frankfort native was awarded a special coin from the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, presented to her by Commissioner Benjamin Adams, a retired brigadier general in the Kentucky National Guard.
"We just wanted to show the veterans that they hadn't been forgotten," said Ewing.
Although Ewing received numerous awards in her 27 years at Thomson-Hood, she says the opportunity to give back to veterans was the greatest reward of all.
“It was never a job,” Ewing said. “The veterans gave me more than I was able to give. They loved me as their family.”
Her career also allowed her to develop a deeper bond with her father, Tom Quisenberry, a retired U.S. Army colonel who would often help as a volunteer.
“It’s been a true blessing to have my father come and volunteer,” she added. “We’ve gotten to spend so much time together and I got to witness the impact it's had on his life to interact with his comrades. Veterans have a bond that regular civilians will never understand and it’s healing for them to be together.”
Now in retirement, she plans to travel but also continue to volunteer at Thomson-Hood whenever she is needed.
“The veterans are my friends and family. I’m not going to break those ties."