PORT ANGELES — It’s quiet today, but on Sunday, Captain Joseph House will be alive with visitors viewing the nation’s one-of-a-kind respite facility for U.S. military families who lost loved ones in combat Iraq and Afghanistan.
“With this open house celebration, we want to show the community what has taken nine years of contributions of money, labor and materials to finish — the remodel of a house that will be ready to honor military families who lost their spouses, siblings and children,” said Betsy Reed Schultz, executive director of the Captain Joseph House Foundation.
Schultz turned her bed and breakfast at 1108 S. Oak St. in Port Angeles into a respite center for Gold Star families after her only son, Captain Joseph Schultz, was killed in Afghanistan.
“When it’s operating, the house will be a plus for this area and a way of thanking and helping console those families who may find strength by interacting with the other families,” Schultz said.
Ceremonies at Captain Joseph House will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Speakers include U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties; two of Joseph Schultz’s team who survived the attack during which Joseph Schultz died, and the former president of the Washington State American Gold Star Mothers.
House tours, with face masks required, will begin at 3 p.m. and last until about 6 p.m. Tours will continue from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday.
South Oak Street, in front of the house, will be closed with a large tent, which will limit neighborhood parking. A shuttle to and from the Clallam County Courthouse parking lot at Fourth and Peabody streets will be available only on Sunday beginning at 12:30 p.m.
Ground was broken for the facility in 2014. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed work on the place, Schultz has said.
When it is operational, the program will host three families at a time, Schultz said. They will spend Sunday to Friday based at the house with transportation, meals and recreational opportunities provided.
Volunteers and paid staff will be in place to provide round-the-clock personnel to support the families. Staff and families will prepare meals, including picnics and food for day trips.
But that won’t happen until it is felt it is safe to have families mingle under one roof, Schultz said.
“They will be coming from different states with different regulations” concerning COVID-19, she said.
“We want people to come, but we don’t want them to go home sick.”
The point of the respite center is to allow people who have suffered the same kind of loss to sit down together in small groups to talk, listen and share comfort, Schultz said.
“If they can’t put an arm around another and hug — that’s the whole thing,” she said.
The foundation has restricted donations that will bring the first Gold Star families to the house, according to Schultz.
“Continued fundraising ensures funds are in place for an uninterrupted Family Program,” she said.
A donation of $800 will cover one individual’s visit; $12,000 will pay for the three families’ respites. Recently the estate of an Air Force veteran donated $75,000.
So far, $556,248 has been spent and 31,000 volunteer hours have gone into the house, which can accommodate up to three families with a total of 16 individuals each visit. Schultz has 400 volunteers to call on, with 20 to 30 the most active, she said.
Contractors, business organizations and service groups also assist the project.
“They have contributed tremendously from the beginning,” Schultz said.
Schultz had purchased the Tudor-style bed and breakfast built in 1910 in 2001. Two months later, terrorists struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Her only child enlisted in the Army after 9/11. He served two tours in Iraq, and, as captain, was four months into his Afghanistan assignment when he was killed on May 29, 2011. He was 36.
“The loss is forever. The pain softens, but will never go away,” said Schultz, who is now 71. “Joseph is always missed and can never be replaced. We must not forget these families and their sacrifices. It keeps me going.”
More than 7,000 American families lost military members since 9/11, she said.
“These families are still hurting. They’ll be hurting forever.” Schultz said.
Said Gary Velie, vice president of the Clallam County Veterans Association, “This open house is your chance to see and walk through the wonderful addition to our community and comprehend the wonderful gift that each Gold Star Family of the Fallen will enjoy by their visit.”
Said John Kent, commander of American Legion Post 29 and VFW Post 1024, both in Port Angeles, “The house and its program are a means for families who have suffered this fate to be able to come together and share stories about their loved ones and to help with their healing process.”
Rod Lee, commander of Carlsborg VFW Post 6787, a member of the American Legion and Fleet Reserve, said he has volunteered for more than eight years.
“The house, the project and the families that will benefit will mean a lot to me and the veteran community. I really hope the community comes out to see that work we’ve done.”
To donate and RSVP to the open house, go to www.CaptainJosephHouseFoundation.org