By Phil Favorite
for Oregonian Media Group Marketing
An American serviceman’s benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) last a lifetime. That fact helped veteran Leedell Fennell take care of 4 generations of his family some 40-plus years after he served as an Army paratrooper in Vietnam.
Living in a multi-level home suitable for a retired couple in Maryland along with his wife Velma’s father, the couple faced multiple challenges. The first was that they had taken over the care for Velma’s father, retired Major Newkirk, who was a 91 year old, fully disabled WWII Veteran confined to a wheelchair and who wanted to spend his last days at “home” in North Carolina. Then their adult daughter, Pamela, was diagnosed with cancer and could no longer take care of herself and her two sons.
Suddenly they needed a house big enough to house 4 generations. In addition to Major Newkirk, Pamela and her sons would be moving in while she battled cancer. To further complicate things, the house needed to not only be much bigger, it needed to be in North Carolina and have enough room on the ground floor to accommodate a wheelchair.
“My father was confined to the lower level and had access to only two rooms,” Velma said. “We were already hoping to move, but when my daughter came home, our needs really changed.”
With mounting expenses for their daughter’s treatment and a fixed income, the Fennells faced an uphill climb in trying to secure financing for the new home they targeted to buy in North Carolina. But after days and weeks of searching for a lender they could work with, they came across the name of a mortgage broker in Beaverton, Oregon who offered hope.
Dick Maurer of Bank of England Mortgage is an expert at helping veterans secure home loans through the VA. He would play a key role in helping the Fennells solve their problems.
“There were some things we needed that we weren’t sure how to address,” Velma said. “But when we talked to Dick, he said that if this is the house we wanted, he was going to do everything he could to help us get it.”
“Because they were coming out of the Maryland area at a time when property values had been depressed, they had a couple of issues we had to work on from a credit standpoint,” Maurer said. “VA tends to be much more understanding and if there’s a benefit of the doubt, VA will give it to the Veteran.”
After speaking with the Fennells by phone, Maurer assessed their situation. With a firm grasp of the VA requirements and the ability to apply them creatively, he helped guide them on a path to securing financing for their new home. Once approved for their VA loan, the Fennells closed on the North Carolina house, where four generations of the family moved in under one roof.
The new house, which has the look and feel of a Southern mansion, features a great backyard for recreation and gatherings, and the lower level had easier access for Major Newkirk during his final days. He passed away earlier this year at 93, but his spirit is still felt in the house.
“It was a blessing to live those years with him,” Velma said. “You couldn’t be around him without being changed for the better.”
With their daughter finally in recovery, only one thing remained; the debts incurred for Pamela’s treatment. While the Fennells feel fortunate that they had the ability to cover the costs, it left a significant amount of debt to pay.
“They had great credit capacity to help cover their daughter’s expenses, but that left them pretty much strapped,” Maurer said. “We used Leedell’s VA eligibility and refinanced their house and consolidated all of the cancer treatment debts. We saved them about $700 a month by refinancing and paying off their more urgent debt.”
With their daughter in recovery, and their two grandsons settled into their new neighborhood and schools, the Fennells are fitting nicely within their new small-town surroundings. Velma said she doesn’t miss the Washington D.C.-area traffic, and Leedell said he’s happy they didn’t wind up in a manufactured home, which he said many lenders pointed them toward.
“Dick worked hard to make it happen, and he did it,” Leedell said. “I give him a 10 out of 10.”
“Four generations in one house, one Veteran got to live the end of his life where he wanted and a daughter got the treatment she needed to see her sons grow into the kind of men who came before them,” said Maurer. “All from the service of one Vietnam paratrooper’s VA benefits. Pretty cool!”
As for working with the VA in securing his loan, Leedell said he encourages every service veteran to explore his or her benefits.
“It feels like you’ve hit the lottery just when you need it,” he said. “You earned it. You should use it.”