Homelake: Proud of past service


HOMELAKE—Serving those who served our country, the Colorado State Veterans Community Living Center (VCLC) at Homelake celebrated its 125th birthday in 2016 and has become a State Register Historic District with funds controlled by the Homelake Historic Preservation and Restoration Board.

This year, the VCLC will be commemorating World War I, which involved the United States on April 6, 1917.

The foundation board held its annual meeting Wednesday, March 22 and learned how the special display is being put together.

Established by an act of the Colorado State Legislature in 1889, sponsored by the Grand Army of the Republic, it was to provide a home for the aging and disabled veterans of the Civil War and Spanish American War.  The first resident was admitted in November 1891 and the same year, Freeman Morris, a Civil War veteran who served with the Colorado Volunteers and fought at Glorieta Pass was buried and the cemetery was designed.

Also called the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home, the facility provided a peaceful place for aging and displaced Civil War veterans. It is the oldest veterans’ center in the state and contains more than 80 structures. The cemetery with headstones in concentric circles surrounds a 1912 monument dedicated to veterans of the Civil and Spanish-American Wars; and former director Steve Kralik reported at the meeting that it is the only one of its kind in the nation; all the rest have burials in straight lines.

Foundation member Lewis Entz pointed out that the cemetery had to be enlarged when it ran out of burial spaces, and cemetery manager Al Malespini said some people had come from Fort Logan and had straightened some of the stones. They discovered more spaces between rows, as the cemetery had not been planned properly. These spaces will be used for cremains and some spaces were reserved in the past by persons who are buried elsewhere. Efforts are being made to contact those families.

Structures repaired

Fifty-two structures on site are considered contributing to the State Register Historic District; five buildings are listed individually. In 2002, the Colorado General Assembly passed a statute to establish the center as a repository for all unclaimed military memorabilia. This, in addition to a considerable archive of military artifacts already collected, has supporters envisioning a significant public display.

The Homelake Foundation was established in 1984 to spearhead the project of preserving the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home and the late Dr. Jack Cotton was its first president.

Colorado Preservation, Inc., the Department of Human Services and a growing network of supporters, including national and state representatives, have joined forces to emphasize the importance of the site and its need for funding. The State Historical Fund awarded the site a grant in May 2006 for a master plan of the campus. Improvements to buildings that are in use have been upgraded to high priority by both federal and state governments.

Restoration of the chapel is nearing completion, bolstered by a $50,000 grant from the Ralph Outcalt Foundation. The check was presented to Getz at the foundation meeting by foundation member Karla Shriver.

A two-phase grant from the State Historical Fund is earmarked toward restoring the former administration building, which will to be turned into a museum. Museum Curator Sue Getz reported at the annual meeting that the collection is in need of more space to be adequately displayed.

The museum began in one room in the current administration building and then moved to the old dining hall, which offered additional room, but more is needed. Like all the other historic structures, it needed work and the museum opened there in 2007.

Getz said she came out of retirement to organize and catalog items and materials that were stored around the building and Foundation Secretary Erin Macgillivray Smith suggested creating a museum. It was 2005 and Jane Rhett began working with her. Rhett is still busy, currently curating the World War I display. She and Getz have been cataloging records, journals, books and memorabilia, some of which date back to the 1800s.

Rhett said 2,300 visitors have been logged so far this year and a number came during the annual Crane Festival. There are 23 new collections and more than 371 items.

Currently undergoing renovations in order to become the museum, “Old Admin” has changed some inside, though its sturdy walls are built of locally quarried rhyolite stone have withstood many years of severe winters.

The foundation has been restored in the past few years and new windows are necessary. The Homelake Foundation has raised matching funds for continued restoration.

Money is needed to rehabilitate at least the lower floor of the old building. “We have so much stuff, artifacts and things, we would like to put out and show people, but we just don’t have the room,” Getz said. The foundation is a non-profit organization and can accept donations from people wanting to help out.

Some exciting items have surfaced, however. The old Soldiers & Sailors Home sign was found on the roof of the building and records from the very beginning have been found and are being put into the database.

World War I

VCLC’s connection with the war is evident in its cemetery and records.

Of the men deployed from the San Luis Valley, 13 were killed in action (KIA) in Europe. They were James R. Dickey, Delfido Garcia, Cletus W. Gunter, James G. Hamilton, Frederick Haskell, Adelaido Lobado, Simon F. Martinez, John W. Nielson, William Bert Reynolds, Selso Romero, Gabriel Scordes, Ross H. Smith, and Paul C. Springer.

Rhett reported that 65 or more World War I veterans are buried in the Homelake Cemetery, and the American Legion Post No. 53 at Homelake was named for Hamilton. The American Legion Post in Alamosa is named for Dickey and Springer.

Planned to be up until 2018, the display includes many uniforms, records, books and other memorabilia

Home to more than 4,000 service veterans, their spouses and Gold Star parents over the past 125 years, VCLC was designed to be self-contained and it was, including a chapel, post office, hospital and infirmary, a farm and ranch, a herd of milk cows and more, reflecting the center's philosophy of caring for the medical, physical, mental, social and spiritual needs of its residents.

Top: Sue Getz, president of the Homelake Preservation and Restoration Foundation Board of Directors accepts a check for $50,000 from Karla Shriver on behalf of the Ralph Outcalt Foundation. The funds will be used to complete restoration of the old chapel so it can be opened and used. Courtesy photo.

Bottom: Jane Rhett, a volunteer at the Homelake Museum explains part of the display commemorating World War I at the museum. Photo by Sylvia Lobato.