Long-time advocate retiring after improving the lives of thousands of veterans

By The Editorial Board

Kris “Turtle” Tourtellotte, founder of the Veterans Welcome Home & Resource Center in Little River, is retiring and the nonprofit’s board members are interviewing candidates to find a new director.

The center, on Highway 57, south of S.C. 9, operates a reintegration house and provides a variety of services for all veterans of the U.S. armed forces. In May, the center marks its eighth anniversary.

In a letter to supporters of the center, Tourtellotte addressed directly the feeling of those who may have wondered if he really will step away from the center: “... I assure that I am very serious. I have been working for vets for 30 years and am proud to say that I have made a difference in thousands of lives.”

Prior to starting the Little River center, Tourtellotte worked for several years helping veterans in upstate New York. He and his colleague Bill Matthews, both Vietnam vets, have reduced to three each week the days they spend at the center. A dozen other volunteers serve, such as Doug Wing of North Myrtle Beach, who helps on Tuesdays.

Tourtellotte estimates as many as 400 veterans contact the center monthly. The numbers have increased since Don Beck, a former employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, started preparing claims applications several months ago. The center gave $35,000 in direct assistance to veterans in 2016.

The center’s growth and widespread community support is a story in itself. From the beginning, the center had support from many area American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and also area churches and civic organizations such as the Rotary Club of Little River. At least eight organizations in Brunswick County, N.C., are among supporters. On Tuesday, Tourtellotte was talking to the Ocean Ridge Charities Association.

Significantly, the center does not receive government funds, Wing pointed out. The total annual operating budget is about $50,000. Operating Hutton House and the office runs about $15,000.

The reintegration program, named for Denny Hutton, has supported 17 veterans to date, ranging in age from 28 to 80. The length of stay varies. Two veterans are in Hutton House now, but at times there have been five, the capacity.

The center has a new board of directors, including Ron Wilson, Army veteran, retired police officer and attorney; Amy Johnston, retired Army Nurse Corps officer, a veteran of Vietnam and the Gulf War; Keith Bacon, former Army captain and retired from General Motors; Donna King, retired from the Central Intelligence Agency; and John Hymes, retired professor of history.

“They will basically run the center,” Tourtellotte says.

Board members have been serving as the house committee, administering the Soldiers Urgent Relief Fund, approving participants for Hutton House and so forth.

Now, a priority is interviewing candidates and selecting a new director. “We’re going to enter a new era we call WT&B, Without Turtle & Bill.”

Contact information

The Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center is on Highway 57 in Little River, about a mile south of S.C. 9 (Stephens Crossroads)

Hours | Monday - Thursday, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. - noon

Phone | (843) 427-4568

Email | operationwelcomehome.mbeach@gmail.com

Online | www.veteranswelcomehomeandresourcecenter.org