Granite Falls woman develops a retreat for veterans on her property

Bridget Cantrell.

Posted by Alfie Alvarado on Monday, May 23, 2016

On July 8, 1987, William L. Baird committed suicide on the couple's property.

In a 2001 Herald column, his widow spoke of how he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. The year before he died, she said, he was signed up for a PTSD inpatient program at the Veterans Affairs American Lake facility near Tacoma. “He was too afraid to go,” she said.

A spot near her home, “Bill's Garden,” is planted in his honor. After his military service, he graduated from the University of Washington. He worked for Boeing and the Eldec Corp., but his wife saw him become increasingly isolated. She believes his war never ended.

In 2011, Baird opened the nonprofit Healing Hearts retreat center to help others suffering from war's wounds. Seventeen acres of her 23-acre property are set aside as a place of peace, inspiration and healing. There are campsites, a fire pit, the organization's vet-to-vet talking circle, and a small cabin.

On Friday morning, the place was buzzing. Down a hill from Baird's house, near an open area she calls “Flying Eagle Field,” about 50 Home Depot volunteers were working in the sun. Most were from the Snohomish store. They were there to build 10 campsites, adding to four already on the site. They also installed 20 picnic tables, expanded a talking circle in a fire pit area, and renovated a small cabin.

On May 22, the Healing Hearts in Hope Veterans Retreat Center plans its fourth annual “Spring Fling.” The event, 1 to 4 p.m., is a potluck picnic and gathering open to all veterans. The organization also puts on a veterans appreciation picnic every August.

During the Spring Fling, the structure being renovated will be dedicated as the William L. Baird Vet-to-Vet Talking Circle Cabin. Baird said the event has drawn about 60 people in years past, but this time she hopes for more than 200.

Jaaron Lauterbach, store manager of the Snohomish Home Depot, said at the work site that Brad Richard came about six weeks ago seeking donations for the project. Richard, a Navy veteran who heads planning and development for the Healing Hearts center, also was there helping Friday.

Lauterbach said he put in for a grant from the Home Depot Foundation, which supports the needs of veterans, and found employees to help. Home Depot provided at least $23,000 in supplies for the work, Baird said.

Baird, 65, has her own struggles. Suffering from multiple sclerosis, which robbed her of the use of her arms and legs, she has been in a wheelchair since 1988. She tried skydiving in 1995, and from that adventure came her nickname, “Flying Eagle.”

An activist for the needs of people with disabilities, she has served on the state's Independent Living Advisory Council and on the government relations committee of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Seattle chapter. In 2007, she was given a National MS Society Advocacy Volunteer Hall of Fame award.

“I have MS, but it does not have me,” said Baird, also a champion of veterans. She was involved in the state's Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, a remembrance that came too late for Bill Baird.

This Flying Eagle believes that all her previous activism, along with the heartbreak of her loss, led her to create the Healing Hearts retreat center.

“Come and heal. You don't need to stay in your dark place,” said Nancy Collins, a member of the nonprofit's council, who was also helping Friday.

Baird still has the 1966 Chevrolet pickup where her husband ended his life. She would like to refurbish it, and perhaps display it in parades.

I believe in making sad to glad. The more you give to each other, the more you give to yourself. Kindness begets kindness.
— Teresa Baird