By Kristina Houck
Philanthropy and polo will again come together Sept. 7 for the 10th annual Veterans Recognition Day at the San Diego Polo Club in Rancho Santa Fe.
Del Mar’s Steve Lewandowski, a Navy veteran, launched the event in 2004 to honor veterans and raise money for organizations that support the military.
“It’s so important because San Diego is synonymous with the military,” Lewandowski said. “San Diego has one of the largest veteran communities in the country. This has been a military town for a long time. We’ve got a special connection with the military.”
According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, there are 21.2 million veterans in the United States, nearly 2 million of whom live in California.
As of 2011, nearly 241,000 veterans reside in San Diego County, which is the second largest county in terms of veteran residents in California and the third largest in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. San Diego County is the No. 1 destination for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In recognition of their service to the nation, all active-duty military and veterans will receive free admission to the San Diego Polo Club with military identification on Veterans Recognition Day. The event will also feature a presentation by a military color guard, a flag ceremony and a live auction.
“It’s a spectacular day,” Lewandowski said.
An insurance business owner in Del Mar for many years, Lewandowski spends much of his time as the master of ceremonies or head auctioneer at various San Diego fundraising events. He has also worked as the San Diego Polo Club’s announcer for 24 seasons. Combining his passions for polo and philanthropy, Lewandowski launched Veterans Recognition Day at the San Diego Polo Club a decade ago.
He also serves as executive director of this year’s participating charity, Veterans Research Alliance, a San Diego-based nonprofit that raises funds to support research and educational programs at the VA San Diego HealthCare System, supplementing government grants.
“We’re doing some revolutionary work at the local VA,” said Lewandowski, noting that several researchers at the La Jolla center have earned the national William S. Middleton Award for outstanding achievement in biomedical or behavioral research.
Founded as the Veterans Research Corporation in 2008, the Veterans Research Alliance supports medical and clinical research programs in the areas of traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, prosthetics, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
A third-generation serviceman, Lewandowski knows firsthand the long-term effects of war.
He served one tour as an officer in the Navy and another in the reserves. His grandfather served in the Army during World War I, and his father served in the Army during World War II. Two of his uncles served in the Vietnam War.
A couple of those family members who served, including his grandfather, had PTSD, he said.
“Technically, World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918,” Lewandowski said. “It didn’t end for my grandfather until 1975, when he died. The war was every bit a vibrant image in his mind in 1918 as it was in 1975 — almost 60 years later.
“When you send someone to war, it impacts their entire life,” he added. “If we send people into combat, we have to be prepared to take care of them for the rest of their lives.”
Gates open at 12:30 p.m. with the first Veterans Recognition Day match at 1 p.m. Sept. 7 at the San Diego Polo Club, at 14555 El Camino Real in Rancho Santa Fe. A ceremony honoring veterans begins at 2:30 p.m., followed by the featured match at 3 p.m.
VIP tent tickets cost $50.
For more about the event, contact Lewandowski at 858-699-5545 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.veteransresearchalliance.org.