— Bill Homan made more trips to the state Capitol over the course of 16 years than he can remember, all for the chance to make the two-block trip he made Monday.
Homan, 97, a World War II veteran, had the honor of being the first resident to move into the newly opened
Minnesota Veterans Home
Staff applauded as Homan, joined by his wife of 74 years, Barbara, and other family members walked into the new home. Homan gave a thumbs-up as he and his wife shared hugs with those welcoming him.
"This is a real honor, being number one," Barbara Homan said. "We are really blessed. We really take this as a great honor."
Bill Homan was among the veterans and many others in the Montevideo community who made regular trips to St. Paul to win state funding for the home.
"Many, many times," said Bill when talking about the bus trips to hearings before the state Legislature. "We were persistent. We wouldn't give up."
Thanks to that persistence, the communities of Montevideo, Preston and Bemidji are all opening new Minnesota veterans homes this year. They are the first new veterans homes to open in Minnesota in 25 years, bringing the total
veterans homes in the state
up to eight.
Bill and Barbara Homan live just two blocks away from the new facility. He watched this new home go up just about every day, said his grandson, Billy Homan, who was among the family members joining him.
Barbara, 92, will remain in the couple's home, but intends to be a daily visitor in her husband's room and new home. And for sure, she said, she will be joining him for meals. He did much of the cooking at home, she said with a laugh.
Homan's room was all ready for his arrival. Family members had previously brought over some of his belongings — in particular, a small portion of his collection of 150 different Allis-Chalmers toy tractors.
Born and raised in Montevideo, Homan said he met his bride-to-be at the town's roller rink.
Homan once had his sights on becoming a pilot. He was among a small group of Montevideo high school students who passed a test offered by the U.S. military as it recruited pilots for World War II.
He passed a second test at Fort Snelling, but by the time he was ready for pilot training, the military had filled its pilot needs and steered him into mechanics training instead.
Homan served in the Army Air Corps as a B-17 mechanic. He entered the service on Nov. 2, 1943, and was honorably discharged on Jan. 10, 1947.
He was stationed on Okinawa to work on B-17 bombers. He was subsequently based in Japan, where he witnessed the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
After his service in World War II, Homan returned to Montevideo and began an on-the-job training program at Montevideo Implement using the GI Bill. It was the start of a 42-year career with the business, the last 18 as its owner alongside Barbara.
Homan is the first of 24 residents who are taking up residence in the new veterans home in the coming weeks, according to Ashley Bormann, the home's administrator. After an inspection sometime in the spring, the home can begin admitting more residents to reach its 72-bed capacity. She expects that will occur by year's end.
The home currently has hired a staff of 70. It will employ in the range of 150 full- and part-time workers when it is at full capacity.
The hiring process has gone well.
"We are really fortunate to have hired a lot of caring individuals, very mission-oriented," said Bormann of the staff.
Her opinion is shared by the Homans, who made a point of telling her how much they appreciate the kindness of the staff.
Marv Garbe, who led the effort for funding the home in Montevideo, was among those welcoming Homan to his new residence. Garbe began the campaign at age 70, he said, and will be soon turning 87.
Garbe brought along the collection of signs that Homan and others once carried around the Capitol to win the attention of legislators.
"Historical artifacts," said Garbe with a laugh. He said the signs helped the Montevideo advocates stand out among the many who came to the Capitol seeking support for projects.
Garbe credited the community support for making the home possible. The turning point, he said, was the time in November 2015 that a couple hundred supporters waited in a cold, drenching rain holding those signs as legislative members of a capital investment committee arrived to view the site.
Homan was among those who waited in that bone-chilling rain. He said he did so without any regrets. While he said he was excited to be taking up his new residence, he admitted to one hardship that brought tears to his eyes.
"It was a hard decision for me to leave this lady," he said of Barbara.