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GIVING BACK: Meet our 2023 Michigan Military & Veterans Gala Award Winners
November 04, 2023
Our 2023 award winners come from all over the state. Some are veterans; some aren’t. Some like to camp, others are bowlers or kayakers, and some like to paint.
But the one thing that seems to tie them all together is gratitude—gratitude for the honor being bestowed upon them, but more so for being able to serve our veterans and their families day in and day out.
“Though I didn't serve myself, my gratitude and respect for those that have are the highest,” says Erin Maroni, this year’s Veteran Friendly Volunteer of the Year.
Here’s more on each of the winners:
2023 VETERAN OF THE YEAR
Francis “Sonny” Putvin
Military service: Army, 1 year, 7 months, 6 days
Hobbies: Outdoor activities including hunting, snowshoeing and being in nature; spending time with family and friends; spoiling the women in my life with a special Christmas tradition of buying them all corsages.
Thoughts on serving: “I wanted to serve my country. I always respected the WWII vets I knew. I served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, facing the hardships of war while celebrating my love for this country. After an honorable discharge and a Purple Heart, I found solace and purpose in the American Legion, serving in various roles and supporting local veterans' organizations. I have been active in growing the Fourth of July festivities in Munising, organizing and lighting the spectacular fireworks display for over four decades. I also volunteer to clean veteran tombstones to preserve the memory of fallen comrades. I hope to inspire younger veterans to contribute to the well-being of their communities.”
Family: Married with 6 children, 12 grandchildren and 5 great grandsons
Thoughts on this award: “I express my deep gratitude to all those who have supported me throughout my journey. I accept this award not only on their behalf, but on behalf of all the brave men and women who have served and continue to serve our great nation. May we never forget their sacrifices and may we always strive to support and uplift one another.”
VA EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR
Carlos F. Castillo
Residence: Grand Rapids
Military service: Marine Corps 2004-2010, including stint in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2006-2007
Employment: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Hobbies: Traveling, hunting, camping, watching sports, coaching sports, mountain biking, hiking
Thoughts on serving: Having served in the U.S. Armed Forces, there is a sense of pride and accomplishment Family: Two sons: Matias, 17, and Jaxon, 11
Thoughts on this award: “First and foremost I want to say thank you so much as this means a lot to me. I want to express my deep gratitude and great humility. I am so honored to receive this award and being recognized for my efforts working in the veteran community as it has gone beyond job duties and has become a lifestyle. I want to thank MVAA and the State of Michigan for providing this opportunity to receive this recognition. As a veteran I struggled post-combat, worked my way through obstacles and never gave up. Now here I am, sharing the stage to receive this award with such amazing individuals who are also intentional about assisting veterans and their family members. I can take a deep breath, exhale, and say, ‘I made it’!”
VETERAN FRIENDLY VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
Residence: Grand Blanc
Military service: N/A
Employment: Heart to Heart Hospice, Volunteer & Veteran program Coordinator
Family: Husband, Joe, and children, Charlotte, 9, and Ryker, 6
Hobbies: Sewing, camping, working out
Thoughts on this award: “I'm so grateful and honored to receive this award. I cannot express how much I appreciate serving senior veterans in my community and the work I have done with the mid-Michigan Honor Flight. Though I didn't serve myself, my gratitude and respect for those that have are the highest. Thank you for your service to this country.”
VETERAN SERVICE PROVIDER OF THE YEAR
Denise Marie Formolo
Residence: Iron Mountain
Military service: N/A
Employment: Director, Dickinson County Veteran Service Office; County Veteran Service Officer; Vice President, Michigan Association of County Veteran Counselors
Family: Two sons: Duane, Army command Sgt. Maj. (retired), and Mario, who works in family business
Hobbies: Camping, hiking, kayaking, painting, reading, cooking, spending time with family
Thoughts on receiving award: “It is an honor to be recognized as the Veteran Service Provider of the Year. I am humbled to be standing here today representing all the veteran service providers who are just as deserving. Without the support and dedication of my fellow county Veteran Service Officers I would not be standing here today. I would like to thank the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for choosing me among so many other worthy and talented nominees, the Michigan Association of County Veteran Counselors for the ongoing yearly training and support, my co-worker and friend Lacey for her continued support. Most importantly, I would like to thank our veterans. It is because of their service and sacrifice that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today. They have given so much, and it is our duty to give back to them. As a county Veteran Service Officer, I am committed, as are the hundreds of other Veteran Service Officers, to ensuring that our veterans receive the care, support and benefits that they deserve. This award is a testament to that commitment and I, along with my counterparts, will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of our veterans. Thank you again for this amazing honor, I look forward to continuing our mission to serve the Veterans in our communities.”
DMVA EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR
Residence: Lansing area
Military service: Army
Employment: Employed with the State of Michigan since 1997, working with veterans since 2002
What did serving in the Armed Forces mean to you? "Serving in the Armed Forces held a unique significance for me, as it wasn't a family tradition or an expectation. Instead, it was a personal choice that gave me a profound sense of purpose and responsibility. It instilled in me the discipline, responsibility and strong work ethic I admired in my father and two of my five brothers who also served. It allowed me to honor their commitment while forging my own path of service, upholding the values that define our nation's military."
Family: Five brothers (including two Army veterans); husband, Dan (Marine Corps veteran); and three fluffy bundles of love (cats)
Hobbies: Playing cards and board games, traveling, bowling, playing with my nieces and nephews, and just making people laugh
Thoughts on receiving award: “I feel honored that I was unexpectedly chosen to receive this award and would like to thank everyone who made this possible for me including my family, work team to include our partners, and all present and future veterans. I plan on using this award as my motivation going forward to continue bringing the highest quality service to our veterans that I can. Thank you again, everyone.”
2023 MVAA AND TRUST FUND EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE AWARD
Hillsdale County Department of Veterans Affairs
Background: In mid-2022, the Hillsdale County Department of Veterans Affairs and partners launched a Veterans Track Probation program for veterans who fall through the cracks of the criminal justice program. The program, operating out of the State of Michigan 2B District Court in Hillsdale, had 22 graduates in its first year.
Thoughts on receiving the award: Donald Michael, who oversees Veterans Track Probation, said the program has been a success due to the contributions of many partners, including the MVAA, the District Court, the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Hillsdale County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and many others. “I credit the team for the current success of this program,” he said. “Bottom line: It is a “WE Initiative” not a “me” initiative. I’m grateful to be a part of such a dynamic program.”
COMMUNITY OUTREACH AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT (CORE) AWARD:
Military service: N/A
Employment: Director, Veteran & Military Services at Macomb Community College.
Family: Husband of 22 years, Craig Fields, and a fur family of Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs (Taffy and a new addition coming to our house this winter, Duff)
Hobbies: Exploring the Great Lakes, swimming, Petoskey stone ‘hunting’, weight pulling and working with our Swissies, cooking, and taste testing my hubbies’ craft cocktail concoctions…
Thoughts on receiving award: “I am truly honored to represent the CORE team as this award winner. This team is forward thinking and super great, driven by passion of the mission—one veteran at a time. These people make significant and positive changes every day, in every community within Michigan. We fiercely collaborate to better systems, identify and remove barriers and, ultimately, serve as conduits to connect our vets to benefits and resources. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic team.”