TOLEDO, Ohio — Like clockwork, Toledoans everywhere start to feel the holiday season in November after the lighting of the Norway Spruce at the Toledo Zoo. For local veteran Stephen Flory, seeing those lights this year is a reminder of his family, friends and a special mission at home.
If there's one thing Flory learned in the military, it was how important his fellow brothers and sisters in uniform were.
"Staying connected to that community that I was a part of for so long, almost 10 years in the Army, those are my brothers and sisters," he said. "Whether you're in the Marines, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, any of it, you're a part of the family."
Flory owns Revitalize Fitness in Maumee and said part of his mission there is to provide a service to his fellow veterans.
"So, a lot of people don't know that revitalize means to give new life or vigor to," he said. "Coming from being in the veteran world, a lot of times you feel broken down or beat up and we want to bring new life into that after service."
Flory works hand-in-hand with an organization called Task Force 20, which helps veterans combat post-traumatic stress disorder by offering gym memberships and personal training paid for by the organization. Flory said there's no doubt people have seen the headlines: the suicide rate for veterans and the connection to PTSD is troubling.
"After getting out, you miss that camaraderie of those guys," Flory said. "Being able to stay connected to people who are like-minded, that's huge, people who understand you. You've been through situations in life that your average citizen has no way of being able to comprehend what that's like."
And that's where his gym comes in. He said they provide the outlet and connection veterans are seeking.
"Trying to prevent that person from feeling so lost that they've got to take their life is a huge mission of mine because it's like losing a family member," Flory said. "It's a sickness. it's an illness that can be treated. So, if we can help any which way, one life, a hundred lives, all the lives. But we'll start with one."
For the work that he's done and continues to do, the Toledo Zoo honored him this year with the lighting of the tree.
"I've been going to the Zoo ever since I was a little kid," he said before the event Friday. "A lot of memories there, so it's going to be an honor, it's going to be a privilege to be there with my family and take part in that event."
The award-winning 85-foot Norway spruce is 65-70 years old. It has over 35,000 energy-efficient LED lights. That's over 3 miles of lights and takes approximately four weeks to decorate. It was decorated again this year with “Twinkly Pro” lights, a programmable lighting system.