Hundreds attend veterans home dedication
by David Atchison
PELL CITY — Close to 500 people gathered for Thursday’s ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony for the new Colonel Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home.

“It is my long awaited pleasure to welcome you here today,” Kim Justice, the veterans homes executive director for the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, told those who attended the opening ceremony of the $50 million, state-of-the art facility.

Officials from across the state, as well as local officials and veterans, attended the historic ceremony.

“What a fantastic facility we have here today,” Gov. Robert Bentley said. “In Alabama, we love our veterans.”

And the plush, state-of-the-art Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home put an exclamation point on the governor’s statement.

Bentley said Alabama veterans deserve a new home, which officials tout as a national model for future veterans homes.

“When you risk your life for your country, you deserve an affordable home,” Bentley said. “Veterans deserve affordable care in a comfortable setting. They deserve the best and when you tour this home, you will see they have the best.”

The facility was named after one of the most decorated U.S. Army heroes in modern times.

Admiral W. Clyde Marsh, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, said Howard completed five tours of duty in Vietnam, and the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient was wounded 14 times in combat.

Marsh said Howard retired from the U.S. Army after 36 years of service. He then turned his attention to veterans.

“He dedicated his life to serving veterans and their families,” Marsh said.

Howard’s brother, Steven Howard, attended Thursday’s dedication ceremony.

Marsh recalled how everything came together in making Thursday’s dedication ceremony possible.

“The stars aligned, and Pell City appeared,” he said. “One could not ask for a more perfect location.”

The St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital is directly across from the veterans home, and just down the street is Jefferson State Community College, which is expected to have a nursing school in the near future.

The St. Clair County Economic Development Council donated the 27 acres the veterans home was built on.

Don Smith, SCCEDC director, said at Thursday’s ceremony that he could talk about all the jobs the new veterans home will create and what it has already done for the local economy.

“But this is not about the economy,” Smith said. “It’s all about the veterans.”

St. Clair County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon was one of the local officials who spearheaded efforts to bring the veterans home to Pell City.

“I am very passionate about this facility, this project, more than anything in my life,” Batemon said. “We will use this facility as a catalyst to help veterans.”

Pell City Mayor Bill Hereford said it was an honor that Pell City was selected as the location for the most modern, state-of-the-art facility available to veterans.

“It’s a model for the nation,” Hereford said. “It’s more than brick and mortar; it’s home for our veterans.”

The 240,000-square-foot facility will house 254 veterans.

The facility will actually start receiving veterans within the next few weeks, but it could take as long as nine months before it is in full operation.

“We’re here today to tell you that dreams do come true,” said Dolores “Dee” Hardin, vice chairwoman of the State Board of Veterans Affairs.

The new veterans home features a town center highlighted by a large rock fireplace. The facility has a lot of open space, inside and out, with a sports café and large “Eagles Landing Dining Hall” in the town hall center.

There are secured courtyards throughout the sprawling complex. All rooms are single occupancy.

Manda Mountain is director for the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home.

Contact David Atchison at

© 2012