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Couple channel grief into retreat for veterans

Aug. 1, 2014 - 07:42AM   |  
The back exterior of Blum's Landing in Ocqueoc Township, Mich, is visible. Terry and Jan Blumberg used benefits and insurance money from their son Trevor's 2003 death in Iraq to help build the two-story home. Now in its third year, Blum's Landing serves as a retreat for veterans.
The back exterior of Blum's Landing in Ocqueoc Township, Mich, is visible. Terry and Jan Blumberg used benefits and insurance money from their son Trevor's 2003 death in Iraq to help build the two-story home. Now in its third year, Blum's Landing serves as a retreat for veterans. (Mike Householder / AP)
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This undated photo provided by Terry and Jan Blumberg shows U.S. Army Sgt. Trevor Blumberg. (AP)
Jan and Terry Blumberg, left, talk with Richard and Mary Dunkley during lunch on July 16 at Blum's Landing in Ocqueoc Township, Mich. (Mike Householder / AP)

Before shipping out for Iraq, Army Sgt. Trevor Blumberg asked his father to do two things if he didn’t return: Look after his puppy, Scrappy, and “take care of my guys.”

Blumberg, a 22-year-old paratrooper known to his guys in the storied 82nd Airborne as “Blum,” was killed days after deploying by a roadside bomb that tore through his Humvee.

In the decade since, Terry and Jan Blumberg have dutifully honored their son’s wishes by using Trevor’s death benefits and insurance money to build a 3,500-square-foot house on 12 acres in northern Michigan that doubles as their retirement home and a retreat for those who defend the country. For the past two years, veterans who served post-Sept. 11, 2001, have been welcome to stay for free at the three-bedroom Ocqueoc Township home for up to five days.

“We made a promise to Trevor,” Terry Blumberg said.

The Blumbergs, church volunteers and veterans’ group members toiled for years to build “Blum’s Landing,” which is tucked back from a dirt road and nestled among trees, with Orchard Lake around back.

Guests eat, rest and play alongside the Blumbergs and Scrappy, who is now a 12-year-old light brown Staffordshire terrier that follows Terry Blumberg around everywhere with tail wagging.

Terry Blumberg, who fought in the Vietnam War, said the loss of their son is “never going to stop hurting,” but he and his wife take satisfaction in knowing they are doing what Trevor would have wanted by hosting those who shared his mission.

He said the retreat’s woodsy setting is perfect for the veterans who stay there to decompress.

“It gives people a place to relax and come down and maybe clear their head,” he said. “When I came back (from Vietnam), going out in the woods was one of the ways I took care of my problems.”

Richard Dunkley, a veteran from Linden, Michigan, who earned his family’s July stay at the home by serving as an Army supply specialist in Afghanistan, said the Blumberg’s tribute to their son is “moving, from one soldier to another.”

He, his wife Mary, and their 12-year-old son, Sam, took a pontoon boat ride, kayaked and relaxed on the porch. Although they didn’t know their hosts well at the start of their stay, it wasn’t long before the Dunkleys and Blumbergs were laughing and talking over lunch at the dining room table like old friends. They shared war stories (Mary Dunkley was a Marine during Desert Storm) but also discussed less weighty topics, such as this summer’s hungry mosquitoes.

“There’s joy every time we have someone come in here,” said Jan Blumberg, a longtime elementary school teacher and principal. “And we’re as excited and nervous as perhaps they are when they come up to that door.

“But we always reach out and give them a hug, because I feel like I already know them a little bit.”

The rules are simple: No shoes or running in the house. Guests can otherwise kick back and relax.

“We want them to feel comfortable, and I do like to spoil,” said Jan Blumberg, who bakes cookies and other treats for her visitors.

Trevor was an outdoorsman who loved the area’s abundant rivers, lakes and woods. Although the Blumbergs raised Trevor and his sister in Detroit’s western suburbs, they often took them “up north,” where Trevor enjoyed many of the activities available to those who stay at Blum’s Landing.

A statue of a saluting soldier carrying an American flag stands guard on the front porch, but the home’s inspiration isn’t obvious until one steps inside. Photos of Trevor hang on the wall outside his parents’ first-floor bedroom and adorn a shelf in the library. Upstairs, a sitting room features a quilt made in Trevor’s memory, and a flag displayed behind glass is covered in handwritten messages from fellow soldiers.

Trevor, who received a Bronze Star, was known for taking care of his guys everywhere he served, which also included Afghanistan, South Korea and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, his parents said. In Iraq, he showed fellow soldiers how to place quarter-inch steel plates in the rear of an open Humvee to deflect bullets and placed sand-filled boxes to form a makeshift bunker inside.

When the bomb that killed Blumberg exploded in September 2003, the improvised shields protected other soldiers.

Asked if she feels Trevor in Blum’s Landing, Jan Blumberg’s response was simple: “Everywhere.”

Still, she said, while her son “would have been honored” by the home, “he would have thought this was too ostentatious.”

Or as her husband put it, laughing: “He would have just built them a bunkhouse and a place to go the bathroom.”

Since it began accepting visitors two years ago, Blum’s Landing has hosted 30 veterans. The Blumbergs are on the lookout for new recruits to stay, sending letters to Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, National Guard units and military bases and via social media.

They also seek donations, which help defray the costs of the veterans’ stays. Terry Blumberg also hopes to build two cabins for disabled veterans.

“We want to pay it forward,” Jan Blumberg said. “These are very unique times and very unique men and women who have volunteered their services, and we love them for that.”

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