BY MELANIE BUCK –
For most of her life, Denie Westphal has been a self-proclaimed pencil-pusher, but one that served her country doing just that. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Westphal said she moved around a lot while growing up. Her father was an Army veteran, serving in World War II and he instilled a sense of duty in his children. Westphal was the big sister to four brothers, who would all grow up and take their places in service.
“There were five of us, myself and four boys. We had two in the Army, two Navy, and one Airforce. When I got married, we added a Marine,” smiled Westphal. She enlisted in the United States Navy right after graduating high school in Pineville, Louisiana in 1965. Not only did she want to earn money for college, Vietnam was also in full swing and she wanted to do something to help.
“I felt like I needed to do something,” she said. And she did. “I was strictly a pencil-pusher,” Westphal laughed. And although she makes her job in the Navy seem minimal, her duties included handling classified documents and working with senior officers in the military. She served for three years actively. “I was very proud. At the time, they didn’t allow ‘WAVES’ (Women’s Auxiliary Voluntary Emergency Services) on the ships so I served where I could,” Westphal explained. She added that WAVES are now known as women sailors.
After her time in the service, she continued to work in various office roles. One such role landed her as the office manager for a Budweiser plant in Alexandria, Louisiana. “I was the first and only woman to work in that branch office for the entire 16 years I was there,” she smiled. That office manager position gave her the basis for many more roles she would play in the future.
Mena landed on Westphal’s radar when she and her husband visited here in 1993 and she fell in love with the area. They spent the next few years working on a home in Board Camp before moving here permanently in 1997. After managing Sun Country Inn in Mena for several years, and enjoying the quiet life in Polk County, Westphal lost her husband in 2008. “We would’ve celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary this year,” she said.
Deciding to switch gears and get back to her roots, she applied for a job at the Polk County Veteran’s Service Office to help again with those who chose to serve their country through the military. To some, answering the phones and helping clients fill out paperwork may not seem like such a big job, but when you’re the frontline of an office, you are the first face they see, the first voice they hear, and sometimes that requires an open mind and a big heart. “I love talking to the veterans and helping them and Theresa is a super boss,” Westphal explained. Aside from manning the frontlines of the office, Westphal also assists veterans in transportation to and from their doctor appointments at the VA. “I schedule drivers and riders on the DAV [Disabled American Veterans] van that goes five days a week to the Veterans Hospital in Little Rock. Any veteran can ride free to their scheduled appointments. We are very proud of our van service.”
Not only does she continue to work, she has also volunteered her time for the last seven years through the American Legion, where she is the Adjutant (secretary). “I love helping the vets. Anything I can do to help a veteran, I will.” She and fellow veteran, Linda Johnson, launched the local Veteran’s Day Parade two years ago.
Serving in the local Honor Guard is a duty that Westphal takes very seriously. The Honor Guard is a unit that gives military honors and salutes at their last service on earth, their funeral. Westphal can’t state the importance of such a service. “That’s the final thank you. It’s the final salute to them and so it’s important,” she said tearfully.
Another volunteer project for Westphal is volunteering with the Humane Society of the Ouachitas. Although she has no children, she has raised many ‘fur babies’ over the years. She currently has four cats and three dogs inside her home, she is a cat-foster for HSO, and has three kittens and a cat that need good homes.
Being in Polk County is a blessing to Westphal. “The people here are just so friendly and open and you don’t get any better scenery than the Ouachita Mountains,” she said. “I’ve been blessed. I’ve done so many things in my life. I’ve had a good life and hopefully I’ve made a difference to people along the way.”