Disabled vets have an open invitation
A Pelican Rapids couple hopes to give peace, comradery and healing to the area's disabled military veterans by opening up their house to them -- their fish house.
"Larry built this fish house from scratch," said Cathy Villella, who is working with her husband, Larry Villella, to provide disabled vets a free place to ice fish.
Area businesses donated some of the materials or provided them at cost to construct the five-hole, 10- by 12-foot fish house, which sits on Franklin Lake, about six miles north of Pelican Rapids.
The Villellas opened it up at the beginning of this month, and say they've already had one group utilize it.
But this fish house isn't as much about hooking a walleye, bass, northern or sunny (fish common to Franklin Lake) but is more about trolling for good times.
"It gives them a place where they can go to just enjoy a day with family or friends," said Cathy Villella, "and maybe they'll catch a fish, maybe they won't, but they're there sharing stories and having a good time -- that's what it's about."
The Villellas say they took on this cause because it is one that hits home.
Larry Villella is a disabled vet himself and knows first-hand the mental and physical struggles that come with war.
"I was a gunner's mate in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam," said Villella, who fought right off the coast of Vietnam, "I had an injury on a gun mount where my wrist got crushed, and I also have a disability of hearing because back then they didn't believe in ear protection."
Villella also has posttraumatic stress disorder, something that he had repressed until about four years ago.
"I started having night sweats and flashbacks -- it's actually gotten worse," said Villella, who adds that he noticed ice fishing helped him mentally.
"We (his wife and him) just took it up a couple of years ago, and for me, it's just so calming," said Villella.
And while the serenity of nature can benefit the troubled mind, the Villellas hope the comradery can help heal the spirit as well.
"There's nothing more therapeutic than to talk with other vets, compare similar stories and just share some of the experiences that you have in common with each other," said Villella, who had four brothers serve in the military as well.
Three of them fought in Vietnam, and two are disabled.
Cathy Villella's father is also a disabled vet after serving as a colonel in a MASH unit in Vietnam.
"And I just think that when they came back, America didn't really respond to them like they should have," said Cathy Villella, "and so I just think we owe it to them today."
The Villellas are not only offering up their fish house free of charge to disabled vets, but also the heat and their services.
"We'll come out and drill the holes for them, and if they can't make it onto the lake themselves, we'll bring them," said Cathy Villella, who says not everyone in the group has to be a disabled vet.
"They can bring their dad or brother or whoever (for free) -- we want them to be able to go with their own friends or family," said Cathy Villella, who says they'll also provide some bait and equipment to the vet free of charge if they need it.
But that means the cost is then shifted to the Villellas, who hope to raise money for the project through "off weekends," when disabled vets are not using it.
"We'll rent it out to other groups for $100 a day, and then we'll turn around and use that money for the (program)," said Cathy Villella, who says they hope to turn their idea into a full-fledged non-profit organization.
Their goal is to be able to solicit enough donations to turn their one fish house into a dozen, dotting area lakes with several free opportunities for disabled veterans.
Their hope is that if they provide the fish houses, other lake homeowners will step up and help run them.
"And we'd also like to see this go into the summer, too," said Larry Villella, "We've got a 25-foot party pontoon that we'll let disabled vets use for free -- if they want to just meet us at the public landing, we'll either let them take it or we'll go fishing with them."
And although the Villellas say they're not making money off this venture, they are making something much more rewarding.
"Think of all the friends we're going to make," said Cathy Villella, "think of all the different people we're going to meet -- that's what we're excited about."
The Villellas have set up a website, where they will soon have a "donate" button, contact information and more on their cause.
To check it out, log on to www.funfordisabledveterans.com or call 701-371-2327.