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Pell City woman opens up her home to veteran in need

The St. Clair Times - 6/25/2018

PELL CITY ? Dena Smith has plans to head north to New York to spend next winter.

She is going to go stay with her niece, Anita Wilson. While she is gone, her house will not be empty. Why? Because she wanted to give back to the community and give back to a veteran.

That's why veteran Phil Patterson is going to be staying in Smith's home while she is with her niece.

Patterson had been living in Youngstown, Ohio, but recently moved back to the Pell City area, living with his sister.

Wayne Johnson said his job as a St. Clair veterans agent is to go into the community and help veterans or spouses of veterans.

"I attempt to assist and help them any way I can," Johnson said. "During my travels, I ran across Mrs. Smith, who needed help with some benefits that she was eligible for. Both her husbands were in the military."

Johnson said Smith told him about some things she wanted to do to help veterans in the area.

"Because her deceased husbands had been in the military, she just wanted to give back to her community," Johnson said. "It is just a win-win situation with a veteran's spouse helping a veteran."

Smith said she was born and raised in the house at 1624 7th Ave. S. in Pell City, right beside First Baptist Church South.

"My father built this house," Smith said. "We were renting a house not far from here up on the hill, and as soon as he completed it, we moved in.

"I went off to college in Toledo, Ohio; graduated; got a job; and got married. When I brought my husband home for a visit, he fell in love with Alabama, and here I am ? still here."

Smith's first husband was Milton Hale, who was a veteran of the U.S. Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. They were married 10 years before he died in the early 2000s.

Five years later, she married Ernest Smith, another Army veteran. She continued to live in the house her daddy built. They were married five years, and then he died.

Wilson said her Aunt Dena raised her.

"Now, I want to give back to her and bring her to New York to Saratoga County past Albany for the winter," Wilson said. "We will be about 150 miles from Montreal."

Born in Anniston, Wilson moved to Ohio with her mother at the age of 7. She has lived in New York since 1976.

"New York is home," Wilson said. "When Aunt Dena and I get to New York, we will be snowbirds. I love the snow. We will go back and forth from time to time."

Patterson said he found out about Smith's house through Johnson.

"Mr. Johnson was taking me to my VA appointment in Birmingham, and we were talking," Patterson said. "I told him I was looking for a place to live because my sister's place was just too small for the both of us.

"Right away, he said he had just the place for me, and it was just around the corner from where my sister lives. He introduced me to Mrs. Smith. We sat down and talked, and here we are today.

"I really need my own space. I am very appreciative of what Mrs. Smith has offered me. She also owns a home in the back here. Once she returns, I will probably move into that house. I just appreciate the warm welcome she has extended to me. It's like we are family."

Johnson said he and others are helping to renovate the second home Smith owns.

Johnson praised Smith's willingness to open up her home to Patterson.

"It just gives me a warm heart to know Mrs. Smith wants to give back to the community," he said. "Not only the community, but to a veteran in need. She has been a part of the military through her past husbands and she just wanted to do something special for another veteran."

Reach Gary Hanner at ghanner@thestclairtimes.com.


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