May 9, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 18

Work on veterans home soon

Construction of the Soboleff-McRae Veterans Village will start any day now, said Haines Assisted Living board president Jim Studley.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for Alaska’s first state-funded, private veterans home was held April 27 at Second Avenue and Dalton Street, where former state Rep. Bill Thomas told an assembled crowd the building is dedicated to “two great Americans who answered their duty to God and country.”

Howard McRae was a decorated Marine command sergeant who served in the special forces and made three tours in Vietnam, Thomas said. McRae lived in Haines before and after his military service and worked as lands assessor here in the 1970s.

Widow Sarah McRae, who attended the groundbreaking, said her husband was among 40 soldiers chosen to stand as an honor guard in the U.S. Capitol rotunda following the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. “He walked like John Wayne and everybody got out of his way. He just had that presence about him.”

Dr. Walter Soboleff was a Southeast Native elder and retired chaplain in the Alaska Army National Guard who retired as a lieutenant colonel after 20 years of service. A prominent member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, he was recognized as a spiritual leader and protector of Tlingit values.

Son Walter Soboleff Jr. said the naming was a deep honor for his family. “Walter loved his people and loved his country.”

Thomas, who as a legislator secured $6.1 million in funding for the two-story, 11-apartment building, said the elder Soboleff was the inspiration for a home for aging veterans who wanted to stay in Southeast.

Studley, who is heading up the project, said energy-saving technology and methods used during construction of the HAL building will be employed to reduce operating costs. Apartment rentals are expected to pay for maintenance and upkeep of the building, Studley said.

Also, the building’s 10,000-square-foot first floor will be offered to non-profit organizations whose services would benefit veteran renters and residents. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium recently signed a memorandum of understanding toward such use, he said.

Studley said his organization also is launching two fundraising campaigns. One, for $2 million, aims to pay for a larger building elevator, covered tenant parking, a sun room and a veterans’ park that would be adjacent to the building.

“We underestimated some things and (the cost) has run a little bit more, but I’m not really worried. We have indications of other granting agencies wanting to participate in this project. I think other non-profits will help us get funds from whoever’s out there,” Studley said. “The building will be ready in two years and by that time we’ll have the rest of the money we need.”

Organizers also will seek to raise $10 million as an endowment fund separate from the construction project, he said.

Iraq War veteran Aaron Schroeder, staff to Alaska Senate President Charlie Huggins, said at the groundbreaking that Haines is a leading example of how to care for the growing veteran and elder populations. A study is under way to determine the need and location of similar veterans’ homes throughout the state, he said.

“Haines here is so unique in the aspect that they’re obviously ahead of the curve. The situation is such that we can put a home out there right now.  We know the population, we know the need, we know the region. That’s truly a special thing that’s going on right here,” Schroeder said.

At the April 27 ceremony, Walter Soboleff Jr. and Sarah McRae and Howard McRae’s sister, Jean Clayton, used commemorative shovels to turn up dirt at the site. The Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Dancers blessed the site by scattering eagle down and celebrated with a song, drum and dance performance that led the gathered crowd in a procession from the site to American Legion Post 12. For more information on the Soboleff-McRae Veterans Village project, log on to www.HainesVeteransVillage.org.