Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Community welcomes Fisher House to Charleston
Last Thursday, Veterans, community members and Charleston VA Medical Center employees and volunteers gathered at 150 Wentworth Street for the grand opening of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center Fisher House. The newly opened 16-suite home served as a stunning backdrop for nearly 300 guests who braved the December winds and rains to welcome South Carolina’s first Fisher House.
The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center Fisher House, which expects its first guests in early January, will serve as a no-cost “home away from home” for the families of Veterans and military members receiving care at Charleston VA.
Medal of Honor recipient Major General James E. Livingston, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), served as the emcee for the grand opening ceremony. The general’s involvement in the day’s event was a special honor in that he was a willing participant in a lunch five years ago when the Fisher House was nothing more than an idea. During a lunch at downtown eatery Hominy Grill, Livingston, Trux and Durbin Emerson, and Charleston VA Public Affairs Officer Tonya Lobbestael sat down to discuss the need for a place where Veterans’ family members could stay while their loved ones received care.
“We talked about the dream of having a Fisher House to meet those needs, and we talked about what looked like a mountain of hurdles standing in the way,” Livingston said as he recounted that memorable meeting. “But today, the hurdles have been cleared and the mountain has been conquered and we have a beautiful home-away-from-home that offers the finest accommodations for Veteran families.”
The new home features a fully appointed kitchen, pristine laundry facilities, and comfortable living and dining spaces where families can relax and spend time together. When designing the impressive home, architect Carl Zarrello took care to honor the beautiful architectural landscape of Charleston.
“The Veterans, and their families and caregivers, who will call this place home, will benefit from the best our VA has to offer.” Scott R. Isaacks, Director & CEO of Charleston VA Medical Center
Outfitted with 9-foot ceilings, Charleston-inspired artwork and plantation shutters throughout, the characteristically Southern three-story home is keenly appointed with the décor of a five-star hotel. Yet no hotel can offer the comfort and comradery that Charleston Fisher House guests will enjoy surrounded by fellow Veteran families and dedicated VA staff and volunteers who will be there to every step of the way as they attend to their Veterans’ needs.
“The Veterans, and their families and caregivers, who will call this place home, will benefit from the best our VA has to offer,” said Charleston VA Director Scott Isaacks. “Not just in the sense of health care services – but also in the compassion and true devotion embodied in the employees who will staff the Charleston Fisher House.”
The Fisher House will be managed by former Voluntary Service Program Manager and Air Force Veteran Vicki Johnson. For years, Johnson has worked extensively throughout the Charleston VA catchment area, donating her time and talents to championing Veterans’ issues. Director Isaacks describes her as “as fierce and friendly as they come” and that no one else more suited to the job. Longtime Charleston VA employee and Navy Veteran Percy Jones will join Johnson as the lead housekeeper at the new home. Guests are sure to be greeted with Jones’ infectious smile and dedication to serving his fellow Veterans.
The Ralph H. Johnson VAMC Fisher House is the Fisher House Foundation’s 73rd home. One of the few VA Fisher Houses not situated on a VA property, the nation’s newest Fisher House is conveniently located on the Charleston peninsula just one mile from the Ralph H. Johnson Medical Center.
Finding a suitable piece of land on which to build the new home was no easy feat, but Kiawah Island residents and Fisher House Charleston co-founders Trux and Durbin Emerson were up for the challenge. Together the couple spearheaded a community fundraising effort to raise $4 million to purchase the land upon which the Charleston Fisher House would eventually stand. During their address at the ceremony, the Emersons were honored to have been able to contribute to Charleston’s rich history of honoring Veterans.
Ceremony guests were able to hear just how much a Fisher House benefited U.S. Air Force Veteran Heather Carter and her family. Following a leg amputation in 2015, Carter and her family spent 18 months in total at the Bethesda Fisher House as endured several several surgeries. Carter credits the Fisher House and the staff and families she met during her stay with playing a significant role in her recovery. The Ralph H. Johnson VA Fisher House will offer the same solace and comfort to Veteran families for years to come.
Other distinguished guests at the ceremony included Charleston Mayor John Tecklenberg, Veterans Health Administration Executive in Charge Dr. Carolyn Clancy, Fisher House Foundation Chairman and CEO Ken Fisher, Fisher House Foundation President David Coker and former VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson.A guest reception and tours of the new home followed the grand opening ceremony.