PORT ANGELES — Betsy Reed Schultz expects most visitors won’t notice it at first as they peruse the greenery outside Captain Joseph House. Then they’ll look east, and see a bear quietly, patiently standing tall among the trees.
The carved art — along with $2,500 from Black Bear Diner’s corporate office — are the most recent donations supporting Captain Joseph House, a Port Angeles home that’s the only respite center in the United States for families who have lost loved ones in combat since 9/11.
Representatives from Sequim’s Black Bear Diner and Sequim Holiday Inn & Suites joined Schultz at the home recently to present the funds and unveil the carved bear, and to get a glimpse inside of the 1910 Tudor-style craftsman house.
“It takes someone with tenacity and grace to do what you do,” Bret Wirta, owner of Wirta Hospitality Worldwide, told Schultz at the unveiling.
Many of those on hand, Schultz noted, were instrumental in getting the facility going.
Captain Joseph House, a one-of-a-kind 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation created to support Gold Star Families, opened for its first families in early October 2022, nine years after ground was broken for the facility.
“It has taken a lot of folks to make this happen,” Schultz said.
And many folks to keep it going, too: the facility runs all on volunteers, Schultz noted, helping host up to three families and 16 visitors at one time. At least one volunteer is on duty from midnight to 8 a.m.
A group of families are coming in early December and a second group is slated for later that month around the holidays, she said.
The house, formerly Schultz’s bed and breakfast, features a massive table so all family members are “equal and get to eat together,” she said.
A sunroom allows plenty of natural light and, Schultz said, “it’s beautiful in this room, especially when it’s snowing.”
One bedroom has an elevator to the second floor. Some of the rooms feature double bunks and can sleep up to seven in one space.
“This is like fancy camping,” Schultz said.
The walls also feature artwork created by Port Angeles elementary school students. Claire Rausch, a former teacher, said she and her students were looking to do “something cheerful for the families” and created watercolor pieces that adorn the hallways.
Schultz’s son, Army Captain Joseph Schultz, was killed at the age of 36 in Afghanistan on May 29, 2011, when his Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device. Marty Apolinar and Aaron Blasjo were killed in the same blast as the one that took Joseph’s life.
Two of the rooms at the respite home are named for Apolinar and Blasjo; the third is named for Gene Braxton, the only member of Joseph’s crew who survived the explosion.
A family crafts room features the only television in the home, along with various toys and games, and a mini stage for puppet shows where children “tell their stories, sometimes,” Schultz said.
Visiting families also take day trips, starting out at either Madison or Marymere Falls, and then moving on to Forks and Rialto Beach, Schultz said — “rain or shine.”
When they do visit, Gold Star families will have a carved bear looking over them — a piece, Wirta noted last week, carved by Ray Schulz, who has carved more than 200 variations of black bears from cedar logs for the 60-plus Black Bear Diners.
They’ll also take home a quilt made by a Vashon Island outfit that also makes specially designed quilts to wrap around injured soldiers, Schultz said. Youths will take home stuffed animals, many of whom don mini quilts created by the Sunbonnet Sue Quilt Club of Sequim.
“Even when they’re gone, we want them to know we are still thinking of them,” Schultz said.
For more about Captain Joseph House, visit captainjosephhousefoundation.org.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at email@example.com.