After more than nine years of serving veterans and the community, Bruce Thiesen retired March 31 as CEO of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District (CVMD). Although he will most likely be back from time-to-time, Thiesen is now looking forward to spending more time with family.
“It’s been a good 9 and-a-half years,” Thiesen said. “We’ve accomplished a lot. I will miss the camaraderie of staff, being around the people here, and the veterans in the community that stop by.”
Tom Wright, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, said they are very sorry to see Thiesen retire.
“We are very sorry to see him moving on,” Wright said. “He has brought a sense of stability and security to our operations that are truly unique. He is so respected within our community, not only among veterans but the general public as well.”
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Thiesen has had a long, diverse career that led him from farming in the Central Valley to campaigning for veterans at the state level. His passion for veterans has highlighted much of his career, so it was only fitting that he finished his career among them.
Thiesen is a Vietnam Era U.S. Army veteran who served his country for two years. He was assigned to the 30th Artillery in Fort Lewis, Wash. He was later transferred to the 4th Infantry and spent three weeks in Norway training Norwegian reserves. He was honorably discharged as a specialist on Jan. 14, 1966. Nine days later, he married Graetian, and the two recently celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary.
Shortly after being discharged from the military, Thiesen joined American Legion Post 191 in Kingsburg. He initially joined just so he could help decorate the graves of soldiers on Memorial Day, but his decision to join put him on a career path that he never imagined possible.
“You never know what God has planned for you in your lifetime,” Thiesen said. “I never thought I’d be where I am today.”
He spent the first part of his career the farming and agriculture business in the Central Valley, but was also very involved in the American Legion. He was the first Vietnam Era veteran to be elected as commander of the American Legion Department of California in 1980. In 1993, he was elected to be the National Commander of the American Legion. During that time, he and Graetian traveled to Normandy to for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Through his work with the American Legion, he also found himself meeting President Reagan and President Clinton in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C.
In 1999, Thiesen was appointed to the office of Deputy Secretary of Operations of the California Department of Veterans Affairs by Governor Gray Davis. He also served as interim secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and was elevated to the office of secretary of the Department of Veterans State of California.
Thiesen knew that he wanted to continue helping veterans and their families when his work was done at the Department of Veterans.
“When I was with the state ... we traveled around and there were a lot of veterans needs and a need to support their families,” Thiesen said. “When veterans are deployed, it leaves a lot of emptiness. Through the American Legion, I’ve learned that we have to take care of our own.
So, when the CEO position opened up at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, Thiesen applied for the job. He began working Oct. 1, 2005. Thiesen oversaw the construction of the $9.5 million expansion project, which added about 10,000 square feet onto the building.
“We have seen steady growth in the use of our facilities under his leadership,” Wright said. “He has been a strong force for the continual upgrading and expansion of our facilities. ”
Although Thiesen has been involved in many projects at CVMD, it’s positively impacting the community that means the most to him.
“The highlight of my career here is the impact that we have not only on the veterans community, but the Clovis community as well,” he said. “The (CVMD) board’s interest is to promote not only veterans, but to promote a facility that can be used by veterans and the community. That’s what we tried to bring about, and it’s happening. This building is very much used by all in the community, whether by veterans programs and organizations, the ROTC units at Fresno State, deployment and retirement parties, City of Clovis training, fundraisers for local schools ... It’s just an ongoing process.”
Not only is it a place for the community events, it is a place for veterans to feel at home.
“It’s non-intrusive, neutral place for veterans to come,” Thiesen said. “They can open up and feel comfortable with people they’re talking to. We’ve had veterans come to the statues on the plaza in front and just sit there in the shadows at 2 o’clock in the morning. It’s just comforting to know that they’re there, and they can try to clear their mind.”
Thiesen says he has traveled across the country, and no other memorial districts can compare with the one in Clovis. He attributes the success of it to the CVMD board and the City of Clovis.
“The City of Clovis has been very supportive of the district,” he said. “They’ve been open to a lot of the improvements the district has made ... and we’ve worked with the city on projects that have enhanced our visibility.”
During his time serving as National Commander of the American Legion, Thiesen was able to visit all 50 states. Now that he is retired, he plans to take Graetian to all the contiguous 48 states, as well as Alaska. He also plans to spend more time with his three children and five - soon to be six - grandchildren.
“We know we will not be able to replace him, but understand that he’s fulfilled his mission and needs to move into retirement and all the joys that brings,” Wright said. “We rest secure in knowing we can still call upon him when needed, and that he will always be a part of what we do.”
Note: At this time, there is no replacement for Thiesen’s position.