Veterans board will soon name new member

After years of tranquility on the once dysfunctional Butler County Veterans Service Commission a member was ousted in June and Common Pleas Court Judge Noah Powers is expected to name a replacement next week.

Jim Eriksen resigned after the rest of the five-member board voted unanimously to petition for his removal after he failed to regularly attend meetings and other obligations. At that time Powers, who appointed Eriksen in January 2021, called the situation a “disappointing hiccup.”

“It’s an unexpected and disappointing hiccup, that’s what it is. It’s not the end of the world,” Powers said. “Those guys, the other four in particular, they work like workhorses, they just do. They’re fired up about the jobs that they do, they want to offer new services. They’re always open to new things. They make their money go a long way in serving the veterans. I’m really proud of them.”

The Journal-News examined meeting minutes since Eriksen was appoint to represent the VFW on the board and found he has attended 11 meetings and was absent from nine, including special meetings. He earned earned $8,868 annually and was expected to attend trainings and participate in other board activities to help veterans.

The judge received three nominees from the West Chester Twp. VFW Post 7696 where Eriksen is the commander, they are Mark Applegate, Ron Dzikowski and Trent Emeneker. Powers is interviewing the men on Monday. The new commissioner must also represent the VFW but Post 1069 in Fairfield did not submit any names.

The board is represented by one member from The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and AMVETS as well as one at-large seat. They serve five-year terms so Powers makes appointments every year.

Dzikowski, 77, served for four years in the Navy as a 2nd Class Petty Officer and submitted a 20-page packet to the judge outlining years of services to veterans and the community. He was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2019 and Butler County’s Veteran of the Year in 2017 for almost single-handedly reviving the West Chester VFW post, tripling active membership to about 30 when he was the commander.

He has a degree in electrical engineering and ran his own manufacturer’s representative firm for 20 years.

“I have for the last 20 years volunteered my efforts toward veterans and other organizations and this just seems like a natural extension of my life’s work,” Dzikowski told the Journal-News. “When I retired about 10 years ago I truly went after it full blown.”

Emeneker, 45, a lieutenant colonel who is still serving in the Marine Corps reserves — he was on active duty for 11 years and served in Iraq and Afghanistan — if appointed would likely be the youngest commissioner to ever serve on the vet board. He ran and lost in the three-man race for two seats on the West Chester Twp. trustee board in 2021.

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Emeneker was laid off from General Electric when the coronavirus pandemic descended and now is a self-employed consultant helping small technology firms. He told the Journal-News he will devote whatever time is necessary to do the job and “it all boils down to I want to make my community a better place.”

“I do things with my family but I’m looking and getting involved in things that make the lives of folks I live with who are less fortunate than I am, who don’t have the same opportunities I’ve had to make their lives better,” Emeneker said. “Because I think that matters, I think it’s how we build communities that take care of people and I think I have a responsibility as a Marine, as someone who has served in the military to continue to serve.”

Applegate could not be reached for comment. According to the resume he submitted to Powers, he is a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant who left active duty in 1969. He worked as a supervisor in the Quality Management Group at Fujitec America, Inc. in Mason from 2012 until the end of 2020.

Michael Barker, former West Chester VFW post commander wrote this recommendation.

“I have personally witnessed Mark’s commitment to the wellbeing and love for veterans through his volunteer work with Honor Flight and VFW outreach initiatives,” Barker wrote. “Mark has a ‘Heart for Veterans’ and I have no doubt he will fully immerse himself with the duties of commissioner and championing the interest of all Butler County veterans.”

The vet board is charged with serving about 22,000 veterans and is funded by a slice of the county’s general fund. The budget for this year is around $3 million.

It is an independent board is charged with helping vets navigate the Veterans Administration system to get medical help and other services, arranging and paying for transportation to medical appointments and finding local services for everything from legal issues to marriage counseling.

The past few years have been peaceful on the five-member board that had been plagued with turmoil since at least 2014. The board experienced some issues that included a snafu with the board appointment process, accusations against the former executive director of bullying and making racial slurs and against a former board president of creating a hostile work environment.

There were disagreements about a wage survey, travel policy, advertising — which the board has found to be an important outreach tool — and other matters were routinely stalled by arguing commissioners.

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