David and Kathleen Chappell had just suffered the loss of their son, Jason, who was killed by a car bomb while on duty in Iraq in 2004.
As if that wasn't enough grief, the Chappells then had to endure a somewhat lengthy wait in Ft. Hood, Texas, while officials identified the bodies of their son and two others killed in the bombing.
The Chappells, who were living in La Habra then, could not afford a hotel room in Texas. Coming to the rescue was the Fisher House Foundation.
"Thank God for the Fisher House," said David Chappell. "We didn't have the money to stay in Texas, but we were allowed to stay in the Fisher House at no cost. Otherwise we could not have attended our son's homecoming. "
"It would have been a big loss for us not to be there," Kathleen Chappell said from her home at the Gold Star Manor on Long Beach's westside.
It's no wonder the Chappells are such enthusiastic supporters of a campaign to build a Fisher House on the grounds of the Veterans Administration Long Beach Medical Center, 5901 E. Seventh St.
A Fisher House is "a home away from home" for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and VA medical centers. There currently are 58 Fisher Houses operating in the United States and Germany.
Since its inception in 1990, the Fisher House Foundation has served nearly 160,000 families, providing more than four million lodging days, saving families more than $192 million in lodging and transportation costs, according to Steve Kuykendall, who is spearheading the campaign to raise $6 million for the Fisher House at the Long Beach VA. The only other Fisher House in Los Angeles County is at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and opened in 2009.
"For the 10 percent of our population who have given so much, this is one way we can thank them for their service to a grateful nation," said Kuykendall, a former congressman and retired Marine Corps captain.
Kuykendall, who is being assisted by Terry Geiling, CEO of the Gold Star Manor, and other committee members, said plans call for a home of about 10,000 square feet with 21 bedrooms and other common space for visiting families.
Once the Fisher House is built, the foundation donates it to the U.S. government as a gift. The VA is then responsible for the operation and maintenance of the home.
The nonprofit Fisher Foundation was started by Zachary Fisher, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was a prominent figure in the New York real estate community as a residential and commercial developer. In 1978 he created another foundation to save the aircraft carrier Intrepid from the scrap yard. He died in 1999.
There is a critical need for a Fisher House in Long Beach. Kuykendall points out that the sprawling VA Medical Center at the corner of Seventh Street and Bellflower Boulevard next to the CSU Long Beach campus served more than 52,000 veterans from Southern California last year.
"For some families, extended stays to be with patients who have severe spinal injuries or are being treated at the blind center could bankrupt them without some kind of assistance," Kuykendall said. What happens in many cases is the visits are cut short or they're not made at all.
Kuykendall hopes to raise the $6 million in the next two years or so and open the home in 2015.
On this Memorial Day weekend, the timing could not be better if you would like to help.
Checks may be sent to Fisher House Southern California, Inc., P.O. Box 110, Long Beach, CA 90801, or you may use the website fisherhousesocal.org. For more information, call 562-432-8252.
Rich Archbold is member of the Los Angeles News Group editorial board. firstname.lastname@example.org