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Group effort results in new digs for needy veteran

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

Chris Fairchild wasn’t quite prepared for what he encountered when he arrived at an Albany duplex last July to start an eviction process.
Fairchild, a Linn County Sheriff’s Office senior deputy, is a process server, the guy who delivers the paperwork after civil court proceedings – summonses, subpoenas, evictions, and other court orders that require such notices.
Fairchild estimates he delivers about 1,600 such notices a year, which he’s been doing for five years.
This one seemed routine, at first.
He arrived just as the mail was being delivered to a community box, and Fairchild asked the mail carrier about Rufus Butler, the individual named in the papers he was delivering. The carrier confirmed that Butler lived at the location.
“I’m like, ‘OK,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, he hasn’t checked his mail in over a month.’
“He had a big ol’ stack. I said, ‘Well, give it to me and I’ll take it to him.’”
Fairchild “pounded” on the door, he said, and finally the occupant, Butler, responded.
“He opened up the door and let me in and I gave him the papers.”
The house was relatively clean, Fairchild said, but Butler was “really super skinny.” Fairchild felt a flash of concern.
“He wasn’t taking care of himself.”
County Commissioner Will Tucker, who got involved in the case, said Butler had difficulty getting healthy meals.
“He was living on cans of soup and Cheerios and Spaghettios and ravioli. His house was full of flies and bugs, and in all the years he’d lived there he didn’t have the ability to do laundry, so he washed his stuff in a sink and hung it on bushes outside. It just wasn’t the best thing.”

SHERIFF’S SENIOR Sgt. Chris Fairchild sits in his office at the County Courthouse, where much of the work to get veteran Rufus Butler relocated took place. Photo by Scott Swanson

Fairchild said the reason he was there was that Butler, who’s 91, had let his rent payments lapse to the point that the landlords had to launch an eviction process.
“Then I found out that he is a Korean War vet and had no family around here.”
Butler, he said, had served in the Air Force, calling in air strikes in Korea. He found out later that Butler had at one time been a newspaper editor and had written some books, but he clearly was at the point where he needed help.
“So I told my supervisor after the eviction process started that there’s no way that I’m going to see Rufus walking out of that house and just walking down the street. Because normally, what happens is that they just get evicted and they take what they can. There’s no way he’d be able to do that.”
That conversation took place at the beginning of August, he said. Butler was supposed to show up in court to give his side of the story, which is the second of the three steps of the eviction process, but he hadn’t appeared.
By Sept. 2, the process had reached the final step: Butler was given a date that he had to vacate the duplex. Fairchild was fully involved by now. He’d enlisted help from county and state senior and veterans services personnel.
“We all went together and had a sit-down talk with him and told him that, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on. You’re going to get evicted if you don’t do this. We need to help you.”
By this time, Fairchild said, he’d become a regular visitor, connecting with Butler, who was showing some signs of dementia and had some “trust issues” which, he said, may have contributed to the rent problems and the failure to follow through on the court appearance.
It had become clear to him, the deputy said, that he would have to find Butler a place to stay.
He checked with Applegate Landing, a new 48-unit complex in Lebanon that focuses on veterans.
“They had a two-year waiting list.”
So he stopped in at the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home and spoke to Kelly Odegaard, former director of the facility and now vice president of operations and veterans services for the state’s veterans care centers.
“He said, ‘yeah, we’ve got, like, 40 people in line waiting to come here.’”
Though Fairchild told him Butler’s case was a “dire emergency,” it was initially a no-go, he said. Then, in the course of that conversation, he got a text from his supervisor informing him that Butler was in the courthouse.
“We’re like, ‘really, on the same day he’s getting evicted he’s in the courthouse.’ Well, he got confused and thought he had a court date.”
Word was getting around and others were getting involved now: Sheriff Michelle Duncan and County Commissioner Tucker, in particular, who contacted the property owners.
“I asked them to come in and said, ‘Hey, what can I do to get him to stay there for a few days? Because you don’t want to throw him out.’ I made a few phone calls. Twisted a couple arms. The landlord was a man who I know has a heart.”
Tucker, Fairchild noted, also had a working relationship with Odegaard, and was able to make contact.
“He called Kelly and said, ‘Hey, this is our situation.’”
Shortly thereafter, the deputy said, he was on the line with an admissions representative at the Veterans Home. He said with individuals from county and state agencies, we just kind of spearheaded this whole thing and we said pretty much, ‘We need to take care of Rufus.’”
Meanwhile, though things were moving fast now on the Veterans Home end, Butler still needed a place to go.
“Normally, we don’t do stuff like this,” Fairchild noted, “but it’s like you’re getting kicked out, and there’s no way Rufus would have made it.”
Duncan arranged things, Tucker said.
“Michelle Duncan, just know that she was personally willing to give me her VISA card if I needed to put him in a hotel,” he said. “She was willing to personally willing to fund his hotel for a day or two.”
As it turned out, Linn County Veterans Services Officer Dee Baley-Hyder was able to provide some funding for the property owners to keep Butler in his apartment until the end of the month.
He also took Butler on a tour of the Oregon Veterans Home, to help him understand what was going on.
“He was a little hesitant to sign a paper,” Fairchild said, adding that it took a few visits and conversations before Butler was on board with the idea. Eventually, he did and “everything was going good,” he said.
He made arrangements for Butler’s clothes to be washed at Linn County Jail.
“They have big industrial machines, so I went to his house and gathered up all his clothes in big black garbage sacks and I took them to the jail and we got all those clothes washed.
He was very pleased, very happy with that because all of his clothes were pretty much not in very good shape at all.”
Then, days later, Butler was found unconscious in a auto repair store parking lot in Corvallis. Fairchild visited him at the hospital.
“He was happy to see me and he just said he was sick. I’m like, ‘yeah, we know, Rufus. We’re making arrangements that you’re not going home after this – you’re going straight to the VA Home. You can’t take care of yourself any more.’”
Fairchild got his neighbor, some friends, Baley-Hyder, and others to get Butler’s home cleaned out and his possessions moved.
“My family was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll go and help,’ Baley-Hyder said, recalling how she brought it up to her kids. “That was our way of helping him.”
Fairchild said he visits Butler at the VA Home about once a week. At one point he got “super busy” and didn’t stop in. When he had time to visit, Butler said,’I thought you’d abandoned me,’” Fairchild said.
“I said, ‘No, we’re not going to abandon you.’”
Butler declined a request by a reporter to speak with him at the OVH.
This case, Fairchild noted, was special.
“People say, ‘Well, how come you guys don’t do this for everybody?’ It’s well, like, most people have family or somewhere they can go. This guy had nowhere he could go.”
Plus, he said, there’s a connection between veterans. Fairchild himself served in the Army.
“I’m a four-year veteran and we kind of take care of each other, you know, the veterans do. It wouldn’t matter if Rufus was not a veteran, but the fact that he did serve our country, for me, is very special.
“And so he’s in the home now and he’s being taken care of very well.”