At Holiday Retirement, we are proud of the veterans in our communities and the service they’ve given our country. We honor our veterans all year long and especially on Veterans Day through celebrations and recognition. But at Holiday Retirement’s Echo Ridge in Knoxville, Tennessee, one veteran goes above and beyond to help his fellow former service members.
With his wife, Judy, and dog, Charlie, Paul Schmidt joined the Echo Ridge community around the start of 2017. By the end of the year, Paul, a Marine Corp veteran, was already pitching in to help other veterans.
Paul volunteered to help update the community’s Wall of Honor, which recognizes all the community members who have served. He works to keep the photos and information about each resident current. Paul says it’s truly a labor of love and he is honored to be able to serve his fellow veterans.
But Paul isn’t the only one in the family committed to helping veterans. Charlie, his 10-year-old German Shepherd, was a therapy dog. For four years she and Paul went on weekly visits to the Ben Atchley State Veterans Home. “They loved Charlie, and Charlie loved them,” Paul said. “You have no idea what animal therapy does until you see it. [There were] vets who were mostly unresponsive, but when they saw Charlie, they perked right up.”
There is one story that stands out to Paul from the years he and Charlie visited Ben Atchley, it’s a story that sums up what the experience meant to the two of them, as well as the other veterans. This is how Paul describes that particular visit:
One week we passed a WWII veteran’s room that his wife and a staff member were in with him. I did not want to disturb them, so Charlie and I passed by his room. The staff member came out and told me [the veteran] wanted to see Charlie. When we entered his room, Charlie jumped up and placed her paws next to his head and laid her head next to his head. This was absolutely forbidden. Visiting dogs were not permitted to jump up onto a veteran’s bed. The staff member looked at me and told me it was ok. The veteran woke up and petted and talked to Charlie for a few minutes. He then dozed off. After a short while, he again woke up and petted Charlie. Again, he dozed off and Charlie without being told to do so jumped down from his bed. After talking with his wife for a few minutes we left his room. When we got to the end of the hall after visiting with several other veterans the staff member who had been in the veteran’s room came up to me and informed me the veteran who Charlie jumped up on his bed to visit with had just passed away. Charlie knew this and that’s why she jumped up on his bed. She wanted to visit with him before he died. Even thinking about that story today brings a tear to this ole Marine’s eye. Semper Fi.
Paul and Charlie are retired from most of their volunteer responsibilities now, but both are always eager to help. Paul likes to joke that Charlie is so friendly that “if someone came to rob our place, she’d help carry things out!” The two now spend lots of time with Judy and their neighbors at Echo Ridge.
Paul and Judy met on a blind date and have been married for 61 years. They have a unique story about their wedding day –– because it happened three times! The first time, Paul and Judy eloped and were married by a justice of the peace in California shortly after Judy graduated high school because her family didn’t approve of the couple’s engagement.
A few years later, when the young couple moved to Chicago, Paul wanted their union to be blessed by the Catholic church, so he went to see the parish leader of a local congregation. Though Judy wasn’t
Catholic at the time, the priest agreed to marry them in the church. Their third and final wedding came a short time later when Judy decided to convert to Catholicism. On the day she was baptized, the couple had their marriage officially blessed by the church.
The two have been having adventures ever since, including raising a daughter and a son and visiting 31 national parks by motorcycle for their 50th anniversary!
They are both very happy about being at Echo Ridge. Paul said the move helped Judy finally “retire,” since she was the one who did all the cleaning and cooking for the couple. He also said that living at Echo Ridge gives them both peace of mind that they are taken care of. “We’re set up for the rest of our lives. We have a home, friends, meals, laundry services, maid services, all of it! It’s a fabulous place that I’d recommend to anyone,” Paul said.
To Paul and all our veterans, we thank you for your service to the country and hope you have a meaningful Veterans Day.