Jun 19, 2019 at 09:17 PM

Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation Hosts Event to Raise Funds for Homeless Vets

By Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation

By Rochelle Rose, Noozhawk Contributing Writer

The Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation hosted a Memorial Day Lunch & Fundraiser at the Montecito home of John and Hazel Blankenship with event proceeds supporting homeless veterans in Santa Barbara.

The foundation was founded by John Blankenship in 2003 with a personal gift from Pierre Claeyssens. With his wife, Hazel, he has assembled executive and advisory boards that are involved with several projects that honor veterans of all wars as well as active military personnel.

The nonprofit organization hosts free community events in Santa Barbara, including a Memorial Day ceremony, a Fourth of July parade and concert, a Veterans Day ceremony, a Veterans Day parade, aircraft flyovers and parachute landings.

A Connected Community Creates a Strong Community

“Santa Barbara is unique. No other city has a foundation that supports so many veterans activities," John Blankenship said. "This morning, there were over 1,000 people who attended the Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Barbara Cemetery. It is very important to observe Memorial Day and to honor the sacrifice of those who keep our country free.

"The foundation has identified the need to address the struggles of underserved veterans in our community, specifically to offer financial support beyond what is provided by state and federal agencies. We provide emergency, or 'gap,' funding directly to veterans, active duty personnel and their families in times of need. This year, our mission is to house homeless veterans in our community.”

Other luncheon speakers included Sgt. Major John Canley, a recent recipient of the Medal of Honor, and Glenn Bachellor, founding board member of Partners in Housing Solutions. Canley received the Medal of Honor in 2018 for his actions in 1968 in Vietnam.

“Many people don’t understand how soldiers felt in Vietnam," he said. "Young kids, 17 and 18 years old and just out of high school, were all of a sudden in a war zone. We let them down in terms of equipment and leadership. When they came home, they were not treated well. Returning home had as much of a negative effect as going to the war zone.”

Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation Memorial Day LunchClick to view larger
World War II veteran U.S. Navy 3rd Class Petty Officer Glen Cook with his wife, Eugenia. (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo)

Guests also could visit “The Bunker,” which is an extensive collection of artwork, hats, uniforms, memorabilia and personal histories that are exhibited in the Blankenships’ home. Pamela Hurst was credited with underwriting the Memorial Day ceremony and the lunch.

Host Blankenship described a brief history of the foundation.

Claeyssens was born and raised in Belgium. He often spoke of his childhood memories when U.S. Forces rescued him from the German occupation of World War I. He later trained to be an architect and immigrated to the United States at age 30.

He came to Chicago in 1938 and moved to California to design Liberty Ships at Terminal Island in Long Beach. In the years following World War II, he worked as an architect on many schools, libraries and other public buildings throughout Southern California.

After being widowed, he married Ailene Wood, an oil heiress from Santa Barbara who passed away in 1995. For the remainder of his life, he continued to express gratitude to the American military with his financial support.

In 1996, he founded the annual Military Ball, which is celebrated by veterans and their spouses from Santa Barbara County.

The Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation is committed to carrying out the mission to honor and support veterans so that Claeyssens’ dreams will never become lost in the fog of time.

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