By Curt Kipp
There are 366,000 living United States military veterans--men
and women who served in peacetime and in war--who call Oregon
As with Oregonians as a whole, more than
half of these veterans are living in the greater Portland-Salem
Rick and Elizabeth Peters of Wilsonville
want to thank all of them.
And creating a rolling salute in the form
of an airbrushed dump truck painted with words and symbols
of thanks--that was just the beginning.
The Wilsonville couple has huge plans to
create a $300 million veterans center to provide medical care,
claims servicing and other amenities, all in one convenient
An outpatient clinic. A claims office. A
pharmacy. Mental health services. A 300-bed veterans home
with skilled nursing and dementia care.
An 1,500-seat auditorium to be shared with
an area church that is presently seeking a larger home.
A pharmacy. A museum. A fitness facility
and an arboretum.
And office and meeting space for veterans
service organizations and other public groups.
Rick knows of nothing like it in the entire
country, though he hopes if it is successful, it becomes a
template for other such facilities across the nation. "We’re
talking a major, major facility," he said.
Logically, they would like to locate it
smack dab between Portland and Salem--right here in Wilsonville.
"Half of those
veterans (in the state) could directly benefit from this facility,"
Rick said. "That’s huge."
They have a 51-acre site in mind, which
is at present undeveloped. They are keeping its precise location
a secret for now. The owner of the site is willing to work
with them, but is not committed to the idea.
For now, the plans are just talk, but the
Wilsonville couple--he's an investment adviser, she's a restaurant
industry spokeswoman--have major players at the table.
The idea was born when the Peters were having
lunch with Bill McCormick of McCormick & Schmick restaurant
They mentioned their idea of a memorial
veterans’ auditorium, and he advised them to go one
better and build an entire center.
So, in January, the Peters arranged an initial
meeting involving several stakeholders, including the property
owner, the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, the interested
church, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Response
was very positive.
"We didn’t have to sell them
the idea," Rick said. "We just said, look, this
is what we can do. And they fell all over it."
Additional meetings have been held this
year, and the Peters also set up a nonprofit corporation called
the Oregon Veterans Foundation. In October, the Peters cautiously
decided to take their idea public.
"This thing is just starting to take
legs," Elizabeth said. "At any point, it could not
happen. There are so many hoops to jump through."
The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs
would like to see the project come together.
At present, the state has just one 151-bed
veterans home, located in The Dalles.
Several other states of similar or even
smaller size --Oklahoma, Idaho, Washington, Missouri, Colorado--
have between three and seven.
"At some point in the future, Oregon
is no longer going to be able to serve the needs of veterans
with one veterans home," said Paula Brown, deputy director
of the ODVA.
Brown and her agency would like to be able
to locate a new veterans home at the Oregon Veterans Center.
"We’re certainly very interested
in the concept and the vision that the Peters have,"
she said. "We’re very interested in locating a
veterans home close to the other services veterans and their
families would require."
The agency isn’t committed to the
Wilsonville plan or to any location.
"But lessons learned from The Dalles,
we'd be looking for a veterans population area for the benefit
of family members," Brown said.
Something that, unlike downtown Portland,
for instance, can easily be navigated by older and disabled
veterans. And that could be Wilsonville.
The grand plans come from a recognition
that it is often inconvenient for veterans to claim the services
to which they are entitled.
It should be easier, Rick said, given everything
that vets go through, particularly when exposed to combat
situations, whether in Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War,
or the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
"We're seeing the same symptoms in
our men returning," Rick said. "Post traumatic stress
disorder. Divorce rates through the roof. Suicides are way
The Peters plan to talk next to Wilsonville
city officials and Metro, so that the intended site could
be urbanized and supported with the needed infrastructure.
"We have the strong sense that the
city of Wilsonville will have the will to make it happen,
once they learn more about it," Rick said.
Different elements of the campus may be
built at different times. The Peters are aware of the need
for patience, yet they also know that some of the agencies
can’t wait forever for the opportunity to build the
various satellite offices and facilities.
Brown, of ODVA, knows as well — it
will take time and dedication to put this ambitious concept
together and, she hopes, make it a reality.
"We're not talking about tomorrow,
or next year," Brown said. "It takes time for these