By Fred Arnold
Whack. The sun rose in the east. Whack. The wind rustled in the trees. Whack. Men and women bustled around a yard teaming with cooperation. LRE Ground Services, the Home Depot, Smith Fence, a hundred and twelve volunteers amassed within a small yard surrounded by the blaze of 5th Avenue traffic. Weathered, colored an odd beige, and crumbling in certain areas, the Martin Lott Residence played host to Preston Rudie and his gang of helpers.
Veteran’s Day began early for Rudie, but the drive from his Tampa home to St. Petersburg, the location of the Martin Lott Residence, did not concern him. It took him months to put together his “Veteran’s Day Surprise”, and he hoped it would go off without a hitch.
Martin Lott Residence covers about an acre. Chipped paint, faded beige, and a pallet of grays make up the main color and trim. A driveway that leads to a car port sits in shambles as men dislodge large chunks of concrete. Sections of fence lean against the house, awaiting their time to be used.
“The veterans left this morning at 7 AM,” Rudie said, his excitement apparent. “They have no idea we are here. Preston Rudie, a former journalist with WTSP 10 News and now the Communications Director for Congressman David Jolly, wanted to give something back to Veterans on Veteran’s Day, 2014. His idea: a surprise remodeling. The Martin Lott Residence, owned by the Boley Center, opened up four months ago as a halfway house for Veterans. When returning home, members of the military suffer from all types of ailments: PTSD, broken limbs, loss of limbs, blind and deafness; there is a whole spectrum. Veterans who are returning from service and suffer from these ailments can live at the Martin Lott for an extended period. Currently, the house has eight members but can fit up to ten.
“I wanted to do something that gives back,” Rudie said. “Current events and stories, it all interests me. I love putting a face to a story; giving a voice to the voiceless.” His deep seeded passion for personal stories he deemed “human interest” led him to take the position at Congressmen Jolly’s office. “The Congressmen stands for something other than himself, and that’s something I can believe in,” he said.
As the van pulled up and the eight Veteran’s inside stepped out to a crowd of people, Congressmen David Jolly, and a newly transformed home, they stared in silent surprise, humbled as their tears melted into hugs of appreciation.
Read more from Fred Arnold, click here.