Dignitaries from state and local government, and the military, will officially open the new Radcliff Veterans Center on July 21.
The center is a bright, comfortable skilled nursing facility that has the feeling of a lodge. It’s located on 200 peaceful acres donated by Fort Knox.
The first residents began arriving in May. One of residents of the first "household" of 10 veterans is William Wester.
When you get to Wester’s room, it’s clear that this slim man with a twinkle in his eye is looking toward the future, beyond his current 101 years.
"I’m going on 102," he said.
Wester left Butler County, Kentucky in 1939 to join the Navy. He was stationed aboard the USS Salt Lake City that was part of the group with the USS Enterprise.
He recalls the day, December 7, 1941, when his ship completed a mission and was heading back toward Pearl Harbor.
"We’d escorted the Enterprise aircraft carrier to Wake Island."
Wester has told his family about seeing the Japanese planes flying low overhead as his ship headed toward Pearl Harbor. The ship pulled into port the day after the bombing and they witnessed the devastation.
Wester also recalls more pleasant times in his life, like his years of ballroom dancing.
"Waltz, cha cha, rhumba, slow dance, fast dance, used to dance ‘em all, but I don’t know, probably forgot ‘em all now."
Suddenly Wester gets up from his chair, begins singing softly and dances slowly around the room with Pam Panter, one of his two nieces who are visiting from Louisville.
With his dancing and his memory and sense of humor still sharp, Wester says people often ask him his secret to a long and healthy life.
“Well, I tell everybody the moonshine I drank back in the hills where I was born preserved me," says Wester, ending with a long laugh.
Wester’s niece Brenda Leon is also visiting and says her uncle was in independent living, not assisted living, until about three weeks before he moved in to the new center in Hardin County. He wanted to come to the Radcliff Veterans Center.
"He very much was looking forward to it. Was hoping he’d be accepted. He said, 'That’s what they promised me when I gave them my 20 years and six days. I sure hope I get in.' He just wanted to be associated with veterans."
Wester is one of 120 veterans who will eventually live at this spacious Hardin County facility, where each resident has a private suite with a bathroom.
Natural light pours in through big windows as Administrator Israel Ray shows off the physical therapy area, a chapel with stained glass windows and places to relax.
"Each courtyard that we’re seeing to our left and our right through these windows, they’re actually for 10 veterans."
There are lots of inviting common areas.
"You have your entertainment area, big screen TV over the fireplace and I’ll show you a larger room that actually has a lift built into it."
Ray leads the way to a special needs room.
"So you see the lift. This lift is built into the ceiling. It can lift up to 600 pounds."
He says this is the kind of equipment that provides top quality care for the veterans.
"And it’s a beautiful thing ‘cause in most facilities they have the lift that’s wheeled into the room. Here in a special needs room such as this, it will actually lift the veteran at bedside and it makes it very conducive for the veteran we’re providing care for, as well as the staff."
Once it’s fully occupied the center will have more than 200 employees. Currently there’s a staff 90 and nine residents.
The first veteran to move in was 91-year-old Eugene Hill, who’s from Cecila in Hardin County. Hill says he was an engineer in the Air Force.
"B-17 bomber. I had to take care of the fuel and so forth."
"And then did you work as an engineer when you got out of the military?"
"I worked at Fort Knox on tanks, 30 years. I put a lot of hard day’s work in up there, getting’ them tanks ready to go overseas."
Hill moved to the Radcliff facility from Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Jessamine County. His son, Gerald Hill, used to drive 95 miles from Cecila to visit his father. Now Gerald Hill says he drives about 20 miles, often twice a week, to
see his dad.
"It’s just super-nice. The veterans deserve it," says Gerald Hill, who is visiting with his 10-year-old granddaughter, Eugene Hill's great-granddaughter.
One consideration in accepting veterans to the Radcliff center is to bring them closer to home and family. Now at 91-years-old, Air Force Veteran Eugene Hill is one of the veterans who has come home.