Jaime Studd/Recorder staff Post 701 members Jim Yermas (left) and Bob Cetnar offer technical advice to fellow member Skip Warner as he attempts to repair a ceiling fan in the living room of the Klemish family's Lost Valley home.
Photo submitted George and Courtney Klemish, along with their two children, Jordan and Jasmine, look forward to finally making their home in Lost Valley in the coming months thanks to the generous efforts of members of the American Legion Post 701 and the Sons of the American Legion.
By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
TOWN OF FLORIDA -- A year ago, George and Courtney Klemish were looking forward to a bright future for their young family.
Married just two months with a baby on the way, the couple was looking forward to renovating the Lost Valley house once owned by George's grandparents, as they prepared to make a home and begin a new life together.
Then came word that George's National Guard unit would be deployed to Afghanistan.
The young family was tossed into upheaval and their plans for the future, it seemed, would have to be put on hold.
George left for training in Camp Shelby, Miss. in January. Courtney, along with 7-year-old Jordan, left to wait out the separation with her family in Michigan.
"I didn't have anybody here, other than his parents, and they both work a lot," Courtney said. "The plan was always to come back and fix the house up."
Last month, with George due to arrive home, the family readied themselves to move forward.
Then came another blow.
Throughout the course of his deployment overseas, George had become increasingly aware of a growing pain in his neck.
Upon his return to Camp Shelby, an MRI revealed two herniated discs.
The injury meant that George would not be returning home to inactive duty. Instead, he would remain on active duty and awaiting the results of additional tests and a treatment plan in Fort Eustis, Va.
"My plan was, when I got off deployment, to go to Michigan, pick her up, pick up all our stuff and bring her back to New York," George said. "When I got put on medical hold for my neck, it kind of interfered with everything."
Forced to stay in Virginia for the foreseeable future, save a weekend visit or two, and with his wife doing all she could to care for Jordan and now 5-month-old Jasmine in Michigan, George said he could not imagine just how the family would be able renovate the Florida house and, ultimately, be reunited again under one roof.
Then, in response to a plea for help from George's mother, Klemish's National Guard unit put out a call for help to a local veterans organization.
It was answered by the members of the American Legion Post 701.
"It was falling apart," said Post 701 member Jim Yermas of the house.
Indeed, George said, the decades-old house was in need of major repairs, having served as his bachelor pad of sorts for six years before he married, and then went vacant and untouched for the year in which he was deployed.
Yermas, along with members of the both the Post 701 and the Sons of the American Legion, spent the better part of last week at the property, however, generously donating countless hours of their own time, as well as all of the materials necessary to breath new life into the deteriorating structure.
"When she first contacted me, she said, 'make it livable,'" Yermas said. "It's livable now."
Crews mended cracks in the ceilings and walls and put a fresh coat of paint throughout much of the homes interior, as well as completed some minor electrical repairs.
Yermas said he had contacted a plumber, as well, and had hoped to be able to renovated the bathroom, but donations fell far short of what they had hoped.
The home is also desperately in need of a new roof and windows.
Yermas said his group had repeatedly appealed to an area home improvement outlet, but to no avail.
"We got nothing donated," Yermas said.
Yermas said there are several grants and programs available to provide assistance for military families, but George and Courtney are, as of now, ineligible. Despite having made payments on the home over the years to his parents, the house is not yet legally in his name; any home renovation assistance requires that legality be first cleared up.
Despite the challenges the home's renovation has presented, Yermas said he and his fellow legion members did not think twice about answering that call for help, and they would not think twice about answering it again.
"It's veterans helping a veteran," Yermas said. "That's what we do."
And if George and Courtney can somehow clear up the legalities surrounding the home's ownership and obtain the financial assistance necessary to complete the project, Yermas said he and his fellow veterans will gladly return to Lost Valley to finish the job.
"Then maybe we can do more," Yermas said.
George and Courtney, however, say they are already overwhelmed by the generosity afforded them by the organizations. The efforts to make the house "livable" have allowed Courtney and the children to move back from Michigan and begin settling into the home while they await word on George's return.
George said he hopes to have a better idea of just what his military future holds following a doctor's appointment at the end of the month.
"I could possibly be discharged, but I don't want that to happen," said George. "If you don't want that to happen, they can lean towards just treating you and releasing you back to inactive duty."
"For the time being, I'm on active duty until I receive my treatment," he added. "I'm going to be stuck down there for another month at least."
Despite the uncertain future, the family said they are, more than anything, grateful.
"They did a really great job," Courtney said of the crew's renovation efforts. "We really appreciate it."
George, however, found it difficult to find the words to convey just what the group's efforts mean to him and his family.
"With the winter coming and stuff, there was a lot of stuff that I needed to get done, as far as winterizing the house and getting ready for that kind of stuff," he said. "By them being there to help me, it was invaluable.
"I don't know what would have happened. My wife would have probably wound up staying in Michigan," he added. "I don't see how I could have done it without them. I'm very thankful, but I don't really know how to put it into words."