Stark ’64 Vets Organize to help Homeless Brothers
At the reunion of the Lutcher Stark Class of 1964 held in 2010, there was a project to find and recognize the members of that class who were veterans of the U.S. Military. This was done, and not being content to sit on their laurels, the vets of that class decided that they wanted to do something to recognize and help other veterans, especially those less fortunate than themselves.
Several of the veterans of the Class of 1964 had spent more time in the military than their original enlistment period. Some had stayed in the military as a career and retired. A few had established businesses and become successful. All had one thing in common, the bond that veterans share that is unique to veterans.
Many of the Stark ‘64 Vets had served in Vietnam and been in combat. Some were affected years later by their experiences there. They were thankful to have come back to “the world” reasonably healthy and able to start a new life. As they were trying to decide on a project, one of the Vets met Bro. Burt Stigen and was introduced to his City of Refuge.
Bro. Burt is a man with a mission from God on his heart. After an eight year stint in the military Stigen went to Vietnam as a civilian member of the Department of Defense. While in Vietnam, Stigen’s wife divorced him and he ended up staying in the country for five years and two months. The divorce also cost Stigen his position as a minister in the Nazarene church.
After leaving Vietnam, Stigen began a new career in an area chemical plant. He always felt that there was something God wanted him to do with his life, he just did not know what it was. Finally Stigen felt that God wanted him to help the homeless.
“I fussed and argued with God,” he said. “I told him I had never been broke and homeless. I could not relate to those people. I just did not know what to do and where to start.”
“He said that all I had to do was open the doors each day and He would take care of the rest. For 25 years now, He has been true to His word.”
The property that had once been the Shady Rest Motel on the old closed portion of Highway 90 west of Vinton. La. was available. Stigen bought the property on a lease purchase and began to clean it up and allow vets who needed a place to live to stay in the old motel rooms until they could get their lives together.
When Stigen retired from his plant job, he drew out his 401K retirement and paid off the property. As money became available he started building cabins to replace the old motel rooms.
The cabins are made of landscape timber and measure 20X20 feet. In each, there are two bunks that will sleep four people, a handicapped bathroom and shower, a shared closet, a small TV with rabbit ears and an air conditioner.
“We do not have too many rules to get in here, but we have a lot to stay here. The guys have to keep their cabins clean, stay drug and alcohol free, be on a duty roster to do chores, and attend chapel services four times each week,” said Stigen. “We operate totally on faith. All of our money and supplies come from private sources. We do not get any funding from governments, state or federal.”
Jerry Gatch, of the Stark Veterans group was introduced to Stigen and the two men found a common cause. Gatch contacted the other veterans from his class and began to loosely organize what would become the Stark ’64 Veterans Association. With suport from fellow veterans, they were successful in raising a donation of $1,200 to give to Stigen and the COR. Tommy Vice presented the check to Stigen and was able to see the COR firsthand.
On March 19, the Stark Vets planned and conducted a picnic on the grounds of the COR. This event brought more veterans and their wives into the project.
“Our vets mingled with their vets for hours. We listened to their stories and told a few of our own” Gatch said. “We gave each resident a cap representing his branch of service and some other gifts. That day was pretty moving for all who attended.” After the picnic the Vets decided to formally organize.
There is a slate of officers, who appoint an executive director to oversee the daily affairs of the organization. Gatch is the current executive director. The board will serve until 2012, when an election will be held.
“We have three levels of membership. There are our Stark ’64 Vets, veterans who are not members of our class, and non-veteran supporters,” said Gatch. “We also brought on board a group of our ladies who have been invaluable thus far to our group. Pat Butler Dyson is our Assistant Secretary and Supporters Coordinator and Wanda Holts Reinert is also Supporters Coordinator.”
The immediate goal of the Association is to build a new cabin at COR and dedicate it to the men from Orange County who died in Vietnam. There is already a draft of a dedication plaque to be attached to the cabin.
It is an ambitious goal. The cost of a fully equipped cabin is $15,000. There is no doubt in the minds of the Stark ’64 Vets that they can carry out their goal. They survived their time in the military and they survived their time in Vietnam. Raising money should be easier. Membership in the organization is open to anyone with a desire to help the veterans who have given of themselves in the service of our country.
“We have 21 men from Orange County who served in Vietnam. We have enlisted a coordinator from West Orange, Bridge City and St Mary’s to coordinate membership and fundraising for people from those schools. Seven of the 21 were from Vidor. At this time we are hoping to identify a coordinator from Vidor to help us find vets and supporters from that school also,” said Gatch. “We want to honor the fallen vets from ‘our war’ by helping today’s fallen vets from their war.”
The Stark ’64 Veterans Association is a non profit organization as defined in Section 501 of the IRS. They have a bank account and an EIN number, and are registered in Orange County, Texas. Any donations are tax deductible.
For information on the Stark ’64 Veterans Association or City Of Refuge, please contact Jerry Gatch at:firstname.lastname@example.org. To join the Association, please contact Chuck Wilson at: email@example.com. There is no cost or obligation in joining the Association. They only ask for your support.
“Do what you can when you can,” said Gatch.