Capt. Joseph William Schultz often had conversations with his mother, Betsy, during his time in the service.
The topic of those conversations often focused on what each of them should do if the other were to die. Betsy — like far too many mothers with children in the military — had to live with the reality that her son could precede her in death.
Joseph was a Green Beret. He was from Port Angeles, where his mother ran a bed and breakfast. In 2011, he deployed to Afghanistan.
It was there, in Wardak Province, that Joseph died.
His vehicle struck an improvised explosive device on May 29, 2011 — one day before Memorial Day. He was 36.
That was more than two years ago. The news of her son’s death quickly reached Betsy. In that moment her Memorial Day changed forever.
The loss of her only son was a life-changing blow — but Betsy, like her son, wasn’t one to surrender.
Betsy recalls the conversations she and Joseph had about death. She knows what he would have said if he could have spoken to her after his death.
“I didn’t die so that you would choose not to live, not to carry on — but to move forward and move on,” she says he would tell her.
Betsy took that thought with her following Joseph’s death. Shortly thereafter, she met the families of the other soldiers who were killed in the same blast as her son.
“I felt really strongly that I had something to offer. I had an opportunity to keep giving back,” she said.
Betsy had access to two important things: a bed and breakfast and a background in social work. She took those two disparate things and combined them to bring her vision to life.
That vision manifested as the nonprofit Captain Joseph House Foundation. Betsy’s former bed and breakfast became the Captain Joseph House.
Military families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty will be able to travel to the Port Angeles home to exhale and relax.
Families will come in on a Sunday and they’ll spend the next five nights at the House at no cost.
“It’s a very peaceful place to be,” Betsy said.
The air strip is a familiar and foreboding place to families who have lost loved ones in service of their country.
“All bodies, no matter what branch of service, are brought back to Dover Air Force Base,” Betsy said.
The airfield at Dover is a powerful place — where the grief hits you like a wave. For the families of the soldiers who come through there in caskets, that wave of grief can feel like an impossibly strong undertow.
Betsy’s vision for the Captain Joseph House is that it be a respite from that grief — a life raft of calm in a sea of suffering.
Dover Air Force Base is blind to a service member’s military branch, and so is Captain Joseph House — Navy, Air Force, Army — it doesn’t matter.
Port Angeles, at the tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, is home to around 18,000 people. When Joseph died in 2011, Betsy was comforted by the people of her hometown.
“Caring and being part of a community … people are stronger,” Betsy said. “They heal from shared experiences.”
When Betsy’s life regained a semblance of routine and she decided to create the foundation the residents of Port Angeles were there for her again.
A number of locals are on the foundations board and many of them have made generous donations to the cause.
The foundation held a live auction a few months back that surpassed any of Betsy’s expectations, raising $65,000.
Every conceivable group, from the American Legion to the local Rotary and Kiwanis groups, have pitched in to help the foundation.
To make the shift from bed and breakfast to place of healing and respite, the Captain Joseph House had to undergo a few changes. Betsy said they’re adding elevator access to the second floor, expanding the kitchen and adding a sun room, among other things.
On May 26, 2013 — the Sunday before Memorial Day — the foundation held a ground-breaking ceremony.
Betsy and a few others were on hand with shovels to dig the first bits of earth. The earth being moved symbolized a birth rather than a burial, a moment of new life for Joseph William Schultz and the Captain Joseph House Foundation.
“Joseph always thought it would be great place to bring children some day if he ever had children,” Betsy said, “which he didn’t, but there can still be families coming here.”
During Joseph’s life, Betsy and her son shared a special bond.
“We were a great team,” she said.
When Joseph died that team was split in two. He can’t be there to comfort his mother, but through the home that bears his name he can comfort others for years to come.
Captain Joseph House Foundation can be reached at 360-460-7848. The website is www.captainjosephhousefoundation.org, where readers can learn how to donate and can find out about fundraising events. There also is a Facebook Page at Captain Joseph House.
Betsy Schultz recently suffered a slight stroke but is recovering well and still anticipates opening the house to Gold Star families on Memorial Day 2014, the third anniversary of her son’s death.