Nokomis East Neighborhood Association

ETS volunteer finds joy in art


Ron Buhta is the most optimistic and grittiest person I have ever met. He retired 17 years ago, but laughs at himself as he “is now busier than ever." A Vietnam veteran and self-taught artist who volunteers at Every Third Saturday (ETS) to help other veterans overcome obstacles such as PTSD, he emphasizes the importance of understanding the past, but living in the moment. “My life is pretty good. I have a place to sleep. I have food on the table... I’m living good. I want to help other people live good, too.” Ron’s story is unique in how he overcame hardship and used it to help others overcome theirs.
Ron served in the Navy as soon as he “hardly graduated high school." He served for four years (1963-1967), and was on one of the first ships that went to Vietnam at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Serving the majority of his time on two ships, he did small acts to make the ships feel like home. For example, he painted dragons on the anchor holders on one of the ships, and drew Peanuts cartoons on flyers to make them more fun for the crew to read. He described how some ships have five steering wheels just in case there is an issue with one of them, and how he learned to steer all five.
He discussed the need to “grow up fast” while living in stressful situations traveling the world. He heard “more bombs than you can imagine” in the distance while aboard one of the ships. Some of his friends were affected by agent orange, and he keeps up to date about how the United States is helping Vietnam today. He described the need to be technically savvy on the ship as having a small error – such as wrapping a rope the wrong way – led to one soldier losing his arm. He also remembered the good times. One time he (illegally) snuck onto the anchor of the moving ship just to have some time alone. He watched the sea life swim by and was really able to take in where he was. That was one thing that surprised me about Ron – no matter how harsh the situation he described, he would always also talk about a beautiful one that came out of it.
A self-taught artist, he began sculpting after he came back to civilian life. He learned this skill when his 11-year-old son unexpectedly and suddenly passed away. It was the darkest time of his life. “You can sit and dwell on the negative thing, [but] where does that get you? In a depressed mood.” He then discussed how he remembers his son as always being a child and all of the good times they had –it makes him “smile and see what is left in your heart and your mind.”
So, how did he find this grit? A friend who is an art teacher helped him look internally to find it. “I went through some hard times, and I was given a wad of clay and I was told ‘do something with it’.” He now casts molds and has sold his art at festivals. He originally thought that when he retired, he would do more art displays, but instead finds more joy in helping others find hope. “Everybody has a creative mind.” He said, reflecting on his weekly art class he helps teach at ETS, “When you’re doing something, you don’t have to be an artist, but it [creating art] makes your mind focus on something positive.” He then told me all about his fairy garden that spans his front yard, and the joy it gives the children who go to the preschool across the street. He was so focused on the joy he has created today that he never dwelled on the past. He left reminding me: “Today is the day you live for.”

ETS has several programs to help veterans, including art lessons, guitar lessons, Bible study, and free clothes to those who need it.

NENA is looking for board of directors who are energetic, strategically-minded leaders to help NENA and our neighborhoods thrive. Currently, there are two vacant seats for the Minnehaha and Keewaydin neighborhoods. Candidates are encouraged to apply by Feb. 16. Email with any questions.

Facade Improvement Matching Grants
Local businesses and nonprofits who would like to improve the exterior of their buildings are encouraged to apply for this matching grant for up to $5,000.

2/2/23: NENA Housing|Development Committee 6:30-8 p.m., online
2/9/23: NENA Fundraising Events Team 6:30-7:30 p.m., online
2/14/23: NENA Executive Committee Meeting 6:30-7:30 p.m., online
2/16/23: Last day to apply to the NENA Board if you live in Keewaydin or Minehaha
2/20/23: NENA Environmental Committee 5:30-6:30 p.m., online


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