Malheur County veterans organization ready to move into new digs

Doug Dean, a member of Veterans Advocates of Ore-Ida, talks about his organization’s upcoming open house set for May 18 in Ontario. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – Two years ago during an epic series of snowstorms, Ron Verini watched years of planning and work vanish when the roof to a building housing the Veterans Advocates of Ore-Ida collapsed.

Verini, chairman and president of the local non-profit, faced a choice as he scanned the destroyed roof and the damage to the building at 180 W. Idaho Ave. He could rebuild or start over somewhere else.

For Verini his choice was easy.

“The fact the main building collapsed was a blessing in disguise,” said Verini.

Verini and the board members of Veterans Advocates of Ore-Ida decided to build a new building and May 18 the group will host an open house to cap a two-year renovation effort.

Verini calls the Saturday event a “grand reopening” and the cornerstone of the celebration will be the new 3,500-square-foot structure built with insurance money, grants and fund-raising efforts by the veteran organization. Verini said insurance paid $760,000 for the new building and Veterans Advocates used another $100,000 in grant monies and donated funds to finish the structure. 

“I think it will be huge and really spectacular,” said Verini.

A fixture in Ontario since 2008, Veterans Advocates offers a spectrum of services. Those include everything from furnishing food for homeless vets, to counseling and financial assistance.

Veterans Advocates also offers a place where area veterans can find fellowship over a cup of coffee. That aspect is especially unique for Verini. He said he wants his organization to offer a “USO-type” environment.

The main meeting area of the new building, said Verini, can hold up to 400 people.

 “It means stability more than anything. It gives us a solid place to work from, to really have our meetings and a permanent location for our food bank,” said Verini.

The new building stands next to Veterans Advocates’ existing structure on East Idaho. That building, said Verini, will become a library and memorial dedicated to the late Ontario High School grad Josh Brennan, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. Brennan, a member of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, died in a firefight in late 2007 in the Korengal Valley.

“We will have all of our military stuff and schools will have access to is as well as adults,” said Verini.

The new building will consist of a large open meeting area, offices, the food bank and a new kitchen.

“So that means a place for our homeless to come during the day. We service a lot of our homeless veterans,” said Verini.

The celebration will be between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and includes a host of dignitaries, said Verini.

Brennan’s mother, Janice Page, a former Ontario resident will also be at the celebration as will Kelly Fitzpatrick, the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Oregon Vietnam Veterans Traveling Wall, escorted by the Patriot Guard organization, will be set up at the event, said Verini. The traveling wall is a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

“We really do have a lot on our plate. But we are excited,” said Verini.

Verini, A U.S. Navy veteran, said Veterans Advocates already has more than 100 responses to rsvp’s.

“I think people will find it interesting,” said Verini.

Note: In this week’s print edition of the Malheur Enterprise, the incorrect date was listed for the open house. The open house will be Saturday, May 18.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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