SCOTTVILLE — Joe Baxter spent a lifetime serving his country as well as Mason County as the head of the Soldier and Sailors Relief Fund in Mason County for the past 30 years.

Baxter also served 20 years in the U.S. Army with four tours in Vietnam.

Recently, he decided to retire from the board of the fund, ready to pass on the opening to someone else who is ready step up and serve.

The relief fund is there to assist needy veterans with emergency grants and burial expense assistance for honorably discharged veterans.

“We take care of the $300 burial allowance for the veteran, the spouse or for children under 18 years of age,” Baxter said. “We review the eligibility and submit it to the county clerk and treasurer, and they make the payment generally to the funeral home.

“We also work in terms of assistance,” he said. “If there is a veteran who is laid off and no income and running out of LP gas, we (I) have the authority to fill their LP tank.”

Baxter said that those payments for emergency assistance go directly to the vendor.

Baxter said in any given year, he would probably do 35 to 40 burials and another 15 to 20 emergency assistance programs.

Baxter retired from the U.S. Army in 1989 and was appointed to the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund in 1990. In 1991, Baxter said Bob Ferney felt he was a better fit of head up the Soldiers and Sailors Fund for Mason County.

Baxter said it has been an honor to serve the veterans and at the time it just seemed like the right thing to do.

“Joe Baxter has served his country and his county with honor,” stated Jeffrey C. Nellis, Mason County Probate Judge who also supervises the commission. “His efforts in coordinating relief for veterans through the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Commission have greatly benefited service members in need for three decades.”

Michelle Hemmer, president of the Mason County Allied Veterans Council and a Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund Commission member, also saluted Baxter for his duty. She estimates that Baxter served on average 200 to 300 veterans per year in the course of his service for county veterans.

Baxter decided the time was right to step down after 30 years of service.

“I am getting to the point where there is too many people that I know that I am burying,” he said. “Seeing the names of so many of my dear friends who passed just became so very painful.”

In tribute to Baxter, Nellis stated, “Joe’s accomplishments should be celebrated. He will certainly be missed.”

Those county veterans who need emergency help or who seek further information on Soldiers and Sailors Relief may call Rick Plummer at 231-852-0685 or email him at rjplummer46@gmail.com.

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