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Watching over military widows

Jun. 9, 2014 - 05:42PM   |  
James Binnicker, Air Force Enlisted Village president and CEO, meets with village residents — from left, Louella Collinsworth, Hazel Reynolds, Theresa Wineinger and Mary Willcock — to talk about apartment designs in the new Bob Hope Village 5 anticipated in July 2015.
James Binnicker, Air Force Enlisted Village president and CEO, meets with village residents — from left, Louella Collinsworth, Hazel Reynolds, Theresa Wineinger and Mary Willcock — to talk about apartment designs in the new Bob Hope Village 5 anticipated in July 2015. (Courtesy of Air Force Enlisted Village)
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Bonus fact:

Binnicker, who spent 33 years in the Air Force, served as the chief master sergeant of the Air Force from 1986 to 1990. He served on AFEV’s Board of Directors beginning in 1992 and became president of the village in 2000.

At the Air Force Enlisted Village, she’s not just mom or grandma. She’s a U.S. military widow, who’s been as much a part of the military as her husband.

In a community near Fort Walton Beach, Florida, she can join 500 spouses who share a similar story.

Founded in 1967, the Air Force Enlisted Village began with the goal of providing a home for surviving spouses of enlisted Air Force members. It now is open to widows, widowers and retiree couples from all services.

There are three campuses: Teresa Village, a 14-building, independent-living apartment complex; Bob Hope Village, with 256 independent-living apartments and 96 more being built; and Hawthorn House, 64 assisted-living apartments and 16 apartments for memory care.

James Binnicker, former chief master sergeant of the Air Force, is president and CEO. He’s heard stories from women — some in their 50s, some older than 100 — who’ve traveled the world. And there’s always more that can be done for them, he said.

“My greatest fear is that there’s a widow out there and she doesn’t know about us,” Binnicker told Military Times. “If we can attract just one, then it’s well worth it.”

Q. How has the village evolved over the years?

A. The original purpose was to care for surviving spouses of Air Force enlisted retirees. Very soon we’re going to have to change that to the surviving spouses, both male and female. ... Over the years there’s been a waterfall effect: Air Force enlisted spouse, any service enlisted spouse, the Air Force retired couple and so on. We have 300 or so widows, about 20 of them are widows from the other service branches. And then we have about 100 couples. ... But that does not take away from the priority of the Air Force enlisted widow. They will never be turned away.

Q. Does the military remain part of residents’ lives?

A. Families stationed at Hurlburt [Field] and Eglin [Air Force Base] often give up their holiday to come and serve the residents and their families here. ... I would say that there’s a volunteer here from either [Eglin or Hurlburt] almost every day in some capacity. Large groups come out on the weekend to do what we call “honey dos” or those things that residents cannot do for themselves — usually things around the house like flipping a mattress or moving furniture around. So the residents make up a list of what they need done, and the leadership school from a base will come out here.

Q. What is the village looking to improve?

A. Teresa Village ... was the original and, for about 10 years, the only facility that we had. ... Just last year we made the decision to sell it. ... There’s an upstairs and downstairs, and our residents who live upstairs found it difficult to move around. … So we sold it to someone right here in town and then leased it back from him for two years, so [that] it left our management team in place over there, but also [so] that our residents’ life would not change. … In July 2015, we will have completed the 96 new apartments here at Bob Hope Village, and [Teresa Village] residents will move over here.

Q. What are some of the benefits of living at the village?

A. Aside from their apartments ... we provide five sedans and two buses to take residents to their doctor’s appointments, the bank, the post office. ...They can go to Eglin’s base BX or commissary ... and we even have an agreement at their pharmacy to pick prescriptions up on their behalf so they don’t have 300 widows standing at the base pharmacy. The activities committee [plans] for them to [have] dinner downtown once a month, lunch and shopping one weekend out of the month. The activities group also plans all sorts of social functions: traditional holiday parties [etc.].

Q. What do you think the AFEV provides more than any other retirement community?

A. The camaraderie this place provides is a common background. You move in and the next day you know the person who lives next-door to you. Some women say it’s like they’re sisters almost. Everybody here has done the same thing: They’ve [experienced] the military lifestyle, they’ve moved, they’ve sacrificed, they’ve done it. ... It was hard times back then, but now we talk about them and laugh because we survived. And they survived. And the theme that we provide is that comfortable feeling that they’re home.

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