Creating a getaway for the families of fallen soldiers

  • Sun Oct 30th, 2011 6:35pm
  • News

By Tom Callis Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Betsy Reed Schultz knows all too well how it feels to lose a loved one in the armed forces.

There’s the overwhelming grief but also the profound sense of gratitude for those who stand by military families in their time of loss.

And five months after her son, Army Capt. Joseph Schultz, was killed in Afghanistan at the age of 36, she’s ready to pay it forward.

Schultz is planning to turn her former Port Angeles bed and breakfast, The Tudor Inn, into the Capt. Joseph House to serve as a getaway for families of fallen soldiers, the Peninsula Daily News reported.

The idea came to Schultz during one of many sleepless nights following the death of her son, a decorated Green Beret who had served in the administrations of former Gov. Gray Davis of California and former President Bill Clinton.

“I had to do something as a mother to honor Joseph” and other fallen soldiers, she said while sitting in the living room of her Tudor-style home, decorated with her son’s photos and military awards.

Her son received three medals — the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Bronze Star — after he died May 29 in Afghanistan’s Wardak province when his Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive.

Two other soldiers died in the blast. One survived.

Schultz said the house at 1108 S. Oak St. would be geared toward helping the families of fallen soldiers in the year after their loss, at a time when they move beyond the initial support provided by the government and private charities.

Schultz, 61, envisions it as being part of the “continuum of care,” where they “find that they can laugh, live … and that it’s OK to be happy again.”

She said she hopes to open in September and is looking at $425,000 in home renovations alone.

That may be a tall order for someone who recently lost her only child.

But Betsy Reed Schultz is not working alone.

Through her son’s large network of friends, stretching back from grammar school to his time in politics and the military, dozens are stepping up to make it happen.

The Capt. Joseph House Foundation formed in August and has a board of 12 members.

One large fundraiser is already in the works.

Nearly 70 of Capt. Schultz’s friends are participating in the “Run for Joe,” which will take place as part of the Big Sur International Marathon in California.

The runners are collecting money to participate, with all funds going to the Capt. Joseph House.

The marathon, one of the most grueling in the country, will be rough for many of the runners, since many of them have never participated in one before, said Jim Deboo, foundation president and a friend of Capt. Schultz since high school.

But Capt. Schultz was never one to back away from a challenge, and in his memory, neither will they.

“He was a quiet guy, but he was extremely driven,” said Deboo, who is director of the California Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services.

“It’s a great way to remember him.”

Fundraisers will also occur on the North Olympic Peninsula, Schultz said, though none are planned at the moment.

“It’s going to take a community,” she said.

“The village of Port Angeles is going to make the Capt. Joseph House.”

A town hall meeting on the project will likely be held in December or January, Schultz said.

Her idea is partially inspired by the Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base, where families of fallen soldiers are housed while they initially deal with their loss.

Like the Fisher House, Schultz’s project would offer a comfortable stay with plenty of hospitality and support from those who share the same grief.

But additionally, the home would bring all of the recreational opportunities the Peninsula has to offer to their fingertips.

“Everything you can do — boat, fish, hike, bike — will be offered to them,” she said.

Two staff drivers will drive them wherever they want to go, and some Peninsula residents are already volunteering to provide fishing, horseback riding and other activities.

Everything will be offered free of charge, including plane tickets from anywhere in the United States.

The Port Angeles Planning Commission cleared the way for the project by unanimously approving a conditional-use permit Wednesday, which the four commissioners present followed with a standing ovation for Schultz.

“What you are doing is marvelous,” said commission Chairman Doc Reiss.

“It’s deeply compassionate, and it reminds us all that all gave some and some gave all.”

Schultz said the foundation is seeking nonprofit status.

Speaking to the Planning Commission, Vietnam veteran Bill Hannan noted that such a home would have done a lot to help the families of fallen soldiers of his generation.

“It touched my heart,” he said.

“It’s a way for our community to reach out and honor those who have served us well.”