Building Connection with Veterans through Conversation

Seventeen-year-old Peter Rygg grew up listening to the stories of his grandfathers, Donald Sattem, age 82, and Lester Rygg, age 99. Both served in the military—Rygg in the Navy during World War II, and Sattem in the Airforce during the Vietnam war. Their conversations created important connections for Rygg and his grandfathers and inspired him to create a way for other veterans to share their stories. After helping with landscaping at Saint Augustine’s of Canterbury Hitchcock Memorial Garden in Elkhorn, Nebraska, Rygg decided that adding two outdoor benches in the garden’s prayer walk would serve as the perfect location for such conversations—and the “Visit with a Veteran” project was born.

Edge: What are you hoping to create with these benches?

Rygg: I want to create an outlet for veterans to share their experiences with anybody in the community. I am also hoping to create a safe space for anyone to share stories and connect with one another through conversation. I want these benches to be a place where anyone can just express their thoughts and share stories to anyone who wants to listen because conversation is a great, healthy way to express oneself.

Edge: What are your plans for fundraising?

Rygg: Fundraising is already underway and includes donations made directly St. Augustine’s where the benches will be placed, asking friends and family to donate and spread the word, an online fundraising page where people can donate, as well as social media pages (Facebook and Instagram) that give up-to-date information about the project under the name “Visit with a Veteran.”

Edge: What is the timeline for the project?

Rygg: Fundraising will continue until August 1st, and then I will purchase and install the benches in early fall. I’m also planning a dedication ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 10th, and encourage anyone from the community to attend. 

Edge: Two of your grandfathers were veterans. How did they impact your life?

Rygg: I’m grateful both of my grandfathers are still living. They have both greatly impacted my life. Every time I visit them, they always have some wisdom to impart on me that makes me realize and wonder how they were so tough and resilient while they were growing up and how they can live such a peaceful life today.

Edge: What have you learned about yourself through working on this project?

Rygg: I have learned that I am dedicated and disciplined while working on something that matters to me. I have also developed good time management and sense of responsibility because if I do not do something for this project then it won’t get done.

Edge: What is your vision for the project? How do you see people interacting on the benches?

Rygg: My vision for this project is that the benches will become a generational landmark. I hope they will be there for decades to recognize our veterans. I see hundreds of people using them to admire the garden and connect with each other through conversation. If even one life is changed, then the benches were more than worth it.

To learn more about the Visit with a Veteran community project, visit

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