It’s just like that old TV show ”Cheers” theme song – Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name … and they’re always glad you came. That’s what it’s like for the veterans who are regulars at Homer’s Annex, a little known meetup that helps fill the void left behind since Homer Helter passed away. Homer, the name-sake for the annex, was a local business owner and supporter of veterans.
Homer Helter’s Antique and Military Museum was once located on Shirley Street in Naples, Florida. It also served as a gathering place for many local military veterans who enjoy shooting the breeze over coffee or lunch. After the mall closed a few veterans would occasionally meet up for coffee but it just wasn’t the same. They had no home base and no regular schedule. When the board of directors for Gulf Coast Veterans & Friends learned of this need they got to work searching the area for a spot worthy of a weekly meetup and centrally located for both Lee and Collier County residents.
Chief Jamie Cunningham and North Collier Fire District stepped up and offered the training room at Station 48 on Livingston Road in North Naples. Typical meetings begin with the pledge of allegiance followed by acknowledgement of The Missing Man table and a reading of the significance of each item placed before the empty chair. The room is quiet while everyone pays reverence, hats in hand, to those who have not yet returned. A large photo of Homer and his wife Diana stand to the right of the American flag and face the veterans.
There are always a few general announcements from anyone who has something to share. Gary, a regular attendee, shared that he had received a call from someone claiming to be the I.R.S. “That nice lady said she had a couple of guys who could come get the check for what I owed them so I wouldn’t go to jail”, he bellowed. “I told her to send them on over and make sure they ask for my accountant firm of ‘Smith & Wesson’. The room roared with laughter and then there was a short discussion about a variety of the latest scams a few had
encountered and cautioned others to be wary of.
Next point of discussion was a variety of political batterings which included discussions about Lake Okeechobee and thoughtful insight from Jessica, a veteran and a pilot, who has flown over the lake for decades and shared the changes that she has noticed. Besides good natured ribbing there are also helpful tips given such as the toll free number for the White House VA Hotline that is operational and staffed 24/7 and info about how to get a free TTY teletype phone for those with significant hearing loss. The TTY converts voice to text so listeners would be able to read the phone conversation on a screen.
Homer’s Annex weekly meetings are just like a family get-together. There are bagels and coffee that eventually
evolve into lunch items like Heather’s shepherd’s pie or Linda’s world famous chili. The veterans have quite a fan following of locals who frequently arrange to drop off a crock pot full of goodies. Just last week Here’s Howe Catering company popped in the back door with a tray of pastries. Shortly thereafter a new record was set for veterans emptying a pastry tray.
If you’re interested in learning more about Homer’s Annex contact Jerry Sanford at 239-289-6952 or visit the Gulf Coast Veterans & Friends Facebook page. Gulf Coast Veteran’s & Friends is a local veteran’s advocacy group. Homer’s Annex is open to all military veterans and meets every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Station 48 at 16280 Livingston Road, Naples, Florida