Ed Gafford gave rave reviews to his lunch earlier this week at the Veterans Homes of California-Ventura.
“The vegetable soup was as good as I’ve ever had,” the 89-year-old U.S. Army veteran said. “A hoagie sandwich, and I had that with a kale salad. A wonderful meal.”
Ah, life’s simple pleasures, with his appreciation enhanced by the fact that until just over a week ago – and throughout the series of storms that pounded the West Coast in recent weeks – Gafford lived alone in a tiny camping trailer with no kitchen or bathroom. Warmth came from a small electric room heater. He showered in the home and at the generosity of the couple who owned the trailer. They allowed him to stay there after his prior residence was sold and he was given three days to move before the place was fumigated.
While grateful for the use of the trailer, Gafford knew it could only be a temporary solution. Which explains why a comfortable room, all the amenities and yes, a great lunch, mean more to him now than he ever could have imagined, for which he thanks the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) and its staff at the Veterans Home in Ventura.
“CalVet is my knight in shining armor,” he said. “They came to my rescue. The staff here is so friendly and helpful. The place is clean and spotless. I am thankful I have a place to stay where it doesn’t leak and I get three hots (meals) and a cot.”
A real bed, actually, in a nice, toasty warm room. When they learned of his circumstances, staff fast-tracked his admission and he moved into the Home.
“Ed is truly living his life with respect, dignity and – most importantly – a smile,” Ventura Home Administrator Julian Bond said. “I like the fact that we did not let the process get in the way during the horrendous (but much-needed) rain. It truly shows that we are people and veteran-driven, not just process driven.”
Gafford’s resume is perhaps as unique as that of any veteran living at the home. A native of Alabama, he spent two years (1955-57) in the Army as a ski trooper protecting U.S. military outposts in Alaska in minus-40-degree temperatures. He went on to earn his doctorate in geology and geochemistry at the University of Oklahoma. Gafford went to work for NASA, studying the elements and histories of moon rocks. He later worked as a scientist for Batelle, an independent not-for-profit agency. His duty? To identify the sources of specific oil spills, to hold the spillers accountable. He also worked on a project to identify all the companies in the world that produced uranium (with nuclear uses in mind).
Then, at age 40, Gafford quit working as a scientist and began developing subdivisions in the state of Washington. He followed that by importing goods from Asia to sell at swap meets, which eventually brought him to Ventura County and his initial connection to the Veterans Home.
“My wife (Carol) and I learned to dance, and we started teaching ballroom and Latin dancing in Ventura,” Gafford said. That included lessons to veterans at the Home, he said. She passed two years ago, just as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their dancing business.
Gafford also taught – and still teaches – photographic art taken through microscopes. His works are featured on Nikon’s Small World Web page.
Dancing and microscopic photography are talents he hopes to share with other veterans at his new home – the Ventura Veterans Home – thanks in no small part to staff that saw a veteran in need and didn’t dance around when it came to admitting him.
“I’ll be 90 this year,” Gafford said. “I’m in fairly good shape. I still teach dancing.”
Right after lunch, perhaps.
The Veterans Homes of California offer affordable long-term care to aged and disabled veterans as well as their eligible spouses and domestic partners. With eight facilities across the state, the Homes offer services ranging from independent living programs with minimal support to 24/7 skilled nursing care for veterans with significant clinical needs. The Homes are nationally recognized for the premier care and services they provide to California’s veterans. For more information on our Homes visit www.calvet.ca.gov/calvet-programs/veteran-homes