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The vets she cares for just call her 'Ma'



The vets she cares for just call her 'Ma'

Staff Writer

Genevieve Riis never served in the armed forces.

That does not mean she has not served the armed forces.

Mrs. Riis, of Harrison, has been giving service to servicemen for more than 40 years.

To hundreds of disabled veterans at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Veterans Administration Hospital in Montrose, she is known as "Ma."

Why? Because Mrs. Riis, 77, is one of the volunteers who has been looking after them since the hospital opened in 1940.

Ma Riis was given the "Silver Bowl Award" by the Veterans Administration a few months ago.

The Silver Bowl Award is given to a hospital volunteer who has contributed at least 10,000 hours working with patients, said Ronald Meffa. Meffa is assistant chief of volunteer services at the hospital.

"Oh, I probably have more than 15,000 hours," Mrs. Riis says matter-of-factly, but modestly.

She seems to shun the limelight and shrug off praise as quickly as others grab for it. Ma Riis works behind the scenes, not in front of the camera.

At least two days a week - rain, snow or shine - she heads for hospital building number six, armed with bananas, candy, cookies and other goodies for chronically ill veterans.

"I never go up empty handed," she said. "The patients are like children. They like to get treats."

The patients, some mentally ill, others physically disabled, come not only from "The Great War" and "The War to End All Wars," but from Korea and Vietnam as well.

Ma Riis feeds the veterans. She talks with them, laughs with them, and sometimes cries with them.

"They recognize her as soon as they see her coming, and greet her with, 'Hello, Ma'" Meffa said.

"People are attracted to her like a magnet," said Meffa. "It's her personality, her outgoing nature, her very being. She is a unique individual."

Now, of the 18 women who signed the original charter, she is the only one left. The charter hangs on her bedroom wall, carefully framed and yellowed with age.

Other plaques and awards hang on her walls, next to paintings and etchings given to her over the years by war veterans.

Meffa has worked with Mrs. Riis for about seven years. He has seen the picnics and parties Mrs. Riis has been throwing for veterans, with help from the Lions Club of Harrison and the Women's Club of New Rochelle since 1973.

Why this devotion to veterans?

It may have started on Armistice Day, 1915, when an 11-year-old orphaned girl from Montreal came to live with relatives in Port Chester.


Article from the Daily Item recounting Genevieve Riis' lifetime devotion to veterans.


Cordil, Lesta




Riis, Genevieve


Daily Item






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Cordil, Lesta, “The vets she cares for just call her 'Ma',” Harrison Remembers, accessed April 12, 2024,

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