The Air Force Enlisted Village in Okaloosa County is expanding. The latest addition to the military retirement community is Bob Hope Village 5. Residents will start moving in mid-August.
The Air Force Enlisted Village is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in Shalimar right outside Eglin Air Force Base. It’s comprised of Theresa Village and Bob Hope Village, two independent living communities for widows of retired airmen, retired military couples, and mothers of active duty service members. In addition, an assisted living facility, Hawthorn House, is located on the property.
“It’s hard to put it into words and the only way I can express it is home is where the heart is, and this is home.”
That’s Alice Coffman; after her husband passed away she moved into the Village and has lived there since 2000. Coffman says the quality of life and freedom the community provides is wonderful for seniors such as her, “We can come and go as we please. But, they have a bus that takes us to the commissary that takes us to the BX. There’s a lady that drives the bus that brings our groceries into the house. I could just go on and on and on.”
The main philosophy of the AFEV is called the “Mom Rule.” All staff members are asked to keep three questions in mind while interacting with the residents. “Would I do this to my Mom?” “Would I do this for my Mom?” And, “Would my Mom approve?” therefore creating a culture where residents are treated fairly and with dignity.
The new addition has been in the making for 16 months. It adds four three-story buildings with 96 new apartments to the campus at a cost of $17 million.
To help with the cost, the AFEV’s original complex Theresa Village in FWB was sold for $4 million. And, in keeping with Florida’s goal of being the most military-friendly state in the country, state Senator Don Gaetz of Niceville says the Florida Defense Taskforce provided $135,000 toward construction of the new facility, “Northwest Florida is the greatest concentration of retired military of anywhere in the country. And the fact that people here are willing to make a commitment to care for the widows of service men, and the widowers of service woman and to create the services and resources necessary to do that makes our area special.”
Gaetz spoke at a recent ribbon-cutting for the new addition. Also on hand for the unveiling was Chief Master Sgt of the Air Force James Cody, “It’s a significant milestone. But, it’s a commitment; it’s a commitment that started way back when that carries forward today. It’s a commitment that’s in line with our Air Force. It’s a commitment to excellence.”
For Chief Cody, the occasion was bittersweet, as he recalled that the blood, sweat and tears was put into the project by former Chief Master Sgt of the Air Force Jim Binnicker, who was the CEO of the village when he passed away in March.
Echoing those sentiments is June Burkhart, a longtime resident of Bob Hope Village. She says she’s happy to see his vision come true, “This is a reality of a dream that he made happen. Chief Binnicker, the ninth Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force is Bubba to me. He always has been. That’s the way he treated all of us, like we were family. I look at it and I say, Bubba you did good.”
Looking on with a sense of pride is CMSgt Brooke McLean. McLean is retired from the USAF and is now the President and CEO of the AFEV. He says that this is not the final step in the process and there is more work to do in the future, “We have more widows who need our assistance. We’re coming together and this property fulfills the dreams of many of our predecessors. I know our dear friend Jim is looking down on us and he’s smiling. His vision is becoming reality. Chief Binnicker is remembered daily and always present in our hearts.”
The new addition provides residents with an improved level of comfort and safety with modern amenities such as a clubhouse, elevators, energy efficient living, and in-unit laundry facilities.
Dan and Claudia Stevens currently reside at Theresa Village and are moving into the new addition in late September. The Stevens are looking forward to some of the new features and to what the future holds for them while living at The Village, “Washer and dryer, and the extra half bath that’s the plus. And, the other thing is that we will be able to go from here, taking care of ourselves, and then if necessary we’re right here at the assisted living, it’s just right up the street here.”
With the new addition of Bob Hope Village 5, all residents will now be housed on one campus, with Hawthorn House, the assisted living facility right across the street. The residents will move-in in phases beginning in mid-August and continuing through October once construction is completed on the last three buildings of the complex.