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It Started with a Dream

Residents, staff, friends and military leaders gather to celebrate the
Air Force Enlisted Village’s 50th anniversary.

 

By KELLY HUMPHREY

 

HURLBURT FIELD (Feb. 9, 2018) – Inez Owens stood in the middle of the Soundside Club and smiled.

Dressed in a glistening, gold, floor-length gown, the Bob Hope Village resident looked around the room and marveled at the hundreds of people who turned out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Air Force Enlisted Village, the non-profit organization that oversees her community and its neighboring assisted living facility, Hawthorn House.

“Look at all the young people,” Owens said, gesturing toward a group of newly minted airmen who were among the more than 300 people in attendance. “I always get excited when I see people dedicating their time to support the widows. It makes you feel like they appreciate your sacrifices.”

Making people like Owens feel appreciated was one of the main goals of the event, which brought together AFEV residents, staff, supporters and a wide array of military leaders to celebrate the anniversary of the founding in 1968 of what was then known as the Air Force Enlisted Men’s Widows Home Foundation. Although a few years would pass before residents would move into the foundation’s first community at Teresa Village, many of the celebrants remembered the hard work that went on in those formative years.

“I was in high school when the foundation first got organized,” recalled Sherry Harlow, the marketing and public relations manager for Eglin Federal Credit Union, which served as the presenting sponsor for the event. “I would volunteer to help with fundraisers and things like that. I remember when Bob Hope would get his Hollywood buddies to come down and put on shows to raise money. The community support for the village has always been great, and what a blessing it has been for our area to have these facilities here.”

Befitting its military theme, the evening’s festivities began with the presenting of the colors and a stirring rendition of the national anthem by Col. Ed Espinoza. During his invocation, retired Chaplain Lt. Col. Tom Azar noted how appropriate it was that the event was timed so close to Valentine’s Day.

“This is all about love,” he told the crowd.

When it was his turn to speak, AFEV Chairman of the Board Joe Mast, a retired chief master sergeant, recognized Alice Coffman, the widow who has lived in Bob Hope Village longer than any other resident attending the ball. Mast presented Coffman with a rose and a hug, and then recognized the couple who has lived at the village longer than any other couples attending the ball: Mr. and Mrs. John Boyer

Raising a glass of champagne, Mast toasted all the residents, staff and supporters who made the AFEV possible.

“This started as a dream,” he said. “Now, 50 years later, we’re looking forward to the next 50 years.”

During dinner, residents like Anne Wiggins and Hazel Reynolds spoke of the love they have for their community and its staff.

“We’re really like one big family,” said Wiggins as she embraced her table companion, Tuk Sullivan. Sullivan, a native of Thailand, has worked in the AFEV’s maintenance department for several years.

“It is such a fun place to work!” said Tuk, who makes a habit of referring to all the residents as “Momma.” “All of my mommas, they look after me. Every morning I wake up happy to come to work.”

Reynolds and Wiggins spent much of the evening waving and smiling at old friends and new. Both were thrilled to be able to attend the event.

“How can you not have fun when you’re out with Bob Hope Village friends?” Reynolds said with a grin. “We know how to have a good time!”

After a ceremonial cutting of the AFEV’s birthday cake, AFEV President and CEO Brooke McLean recognized how far the foundation had come, and the plans the organization has for the future.

“I’m very happy to be here to celebrate our 50th anniversary,” he said. “But tonight is about more than that. Tonight is about celebrating and enjoying time with good friends.”

One of those good friends was Jerry Williams, the President and CEO of Eglin Federal Credit Union. Williams drew a huge laugh from the crowd when he recalled that when McLean and other members of the AFEV board of directors first approached him about sponsoring the event, they suggested he imagine his mother was asking him for his support. The remark brought back memories of Jim Binnicker, the ninth Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and the beloved former leader of the AFEV. Before his passing in 2015, Binnicker had instituted “The Mom Rule,” which directed staff members to ask themselves three questions when working with residents or making a decision about a resident’s care:

  1. Would I do this to my mom?
  2. Would I do this for my mom?
  3. Would my mom approve?

Williams recognized Binnicker’s widow, Jan, who received a warm ovation from the audience.

Other dignitaries in the crowd were the commanders and command chiefs of almost every major military unit in the area, including Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, and civic leaders such as Okaloosa County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel. Underscoring the extent of the Air Force’s support for the AFEV was the event’s featured speaker, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright.

Wright told the crowd that he had been pondering what made the AFEV such a unique entity.

“We’re the only service that does this, which is pretty unique,” Wright said. “Then there’s the leadership and vision, the staff, and of course the volunteerism. More than 1,000 people a year volunteer at the village.

“But maybe, just maybe …” he said, pausing for dramatic effect. “Maybe it’s our residents. My experience has been that they’re amazing. One thing I know for sure is that as long as we keep the family and the team together, all of these things will allow us to continue to be unique 50 years down the road.”

Watch the entire 50th Anniversary Ball program HERE.

We’d like to thank our presenting sponsor Eglin Federal Credit Union for a wonderful evening.

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