When a local veteran was struggling to keep his home in Autryville last month, $2,000 behind on his mortgage, Ann Knowles, the woman who has been there for countless veterans through the years, reached into her own pocket.
Sampson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Billy Lockamy honored Knowles, the county’s Veterans Service officer, for her actions in assisting local veteran Bruce Waldahl, who faced displacement from his home to compound his disability.
“All of us like to put all we can into the service we do for the county, but Ann Knowles is the person that I’d like to have on my side any time I have any trouble at all,” Lockamy said earlier this week. “Buddy, she can get the job done.”
Representatives with finance company Green Tree Servicing LLC converged on Waldahl’s residence outside of Autryville last month to repossess the home whose payments were past due. Sampson County Sheriff’s deputies were at the home and Knowles quickly responded, doing everything she could to keep Waldahl where he was.
The workers were there with sledgehammers to bust the foundation. A truck was on standby to haul away the home. And the veteran, confined to a wheelchair, could not get away and would have nowhere to go.
“He didn’t know that his loan was four months — $2,000 — behind.” said Knowles. “Green Tree did not want to, but with some persuasion, their representative stepped up. His son had served two tours in Afghanistan, came home and got killed. He had a special place in his heart for veterans. So he went above and got me to the top. The person at the top said ‘give me some money and we’ll go away. So, that’s what we did.”
Knowles paid the $2,000.
Waldahl promised to pay Knowles back. His disability benefits had been cut due to a paperwork mishap, and there were forms he was supposed to sign to continue receiving disability payments that he never received, and they never saw his signature.
Knowles, who has helped Waldahl in the past, was able to get his benefits fully restored. She also got his sincerest appreciation, the same sort of outpouring the commissioners showered her with during their regular meeting.
“She went beyond the call of duty and said she could not sleep at night knowing this man lost his home,” said Lockamy. “So she gets on the phone and calls the lien holder and works things out, and even helped the man personally and let him borrow money.”
Lockamy recognized Ann Knowles and her family in attendance. Knowles credited her family, especially husband Frankie.
“I didn’t know if I would be married the next day or not, but when I went home and told Frankie, he said ‘Oh, that’s OK,’” said Knowles. “Our veterans are our most important asset. Because without our veterans, would we have what we have today? This veteran, through no fault of his, his home was to be towed away that day.”
Knowles thanked Lockamy and all of the commissioners, who she said “all have veterans at heart.” Knowles was applauded before commissioners, one by one, shared their gratitude for the job that Knowles does every day.
“Thank you,” said Commissioner Jarvis McLamb. “It was outstanding what you did. Very few people would do that. It goes to show what kind of heart you’ve got.”
Those who know her also know this is far from the first time she has reached into her own pocket to help out a local veteran. Commissioner Albert Kirby, whose father was a veteran, said as much.
“This is just one example that we’re talking about,” Kirby told Knowles. “I know there were many others where you have gone beyond the call of duty, even with my family personally. When I see this act, it doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s just the kind of person you are. I just want to thank you for all the work you do for the veterans and for Sampson County.”
Commissioner Jefferson Strickland said it was hard to put into words just what Knowles’ act meant to him and others who heard about it.
“All of Sampson County thanks you for what you did and are doing and will do in the future,” said Strickland. “Thank you for the good job you’re doing.”
Commissioner Harry Parker said he has known Knowles for a long time. He knows, at times, the job is tough, but Knowles has shined in her years with Sampson, something Parker has witnessed firsthand.
“I just want to commend you. I appreciate you, because I’m a veteran, and I know what that means,” said Parker. “Thank you very, very much.”
The veterans are a tremendous asset, one that should be cared for. What they have done for our country cannot be understated, and Knowles has sought to ensure that, just as they have looked out for their country, that their country continues to look out for them.
“The veterans are what is important here. There are hard times. They don’t always get the things they’re entitled to,” she said. “Our office is committed to helping them, and we’re very fortunate that Sampson County backs us up. They give us what we need to have a good office.”
Knowles said there are groups that can help out in instances like Waldahl’s, but the kind of situation that presented itself a few weeks back was an extenuating one. The crews were there to take the home away, and immediate action was necessary.
So Knowles brokered an agreement, and handed over $2,000 of her own money.
“Fortunately, we have Vet Councils in the county that, if I’d have gotten a hold of them, they would’ve helped me out,” said Knowles, “but that was a ‘do it right now, or step away’ (situation). And that’s what we had to do. My heart is for the veterans. I think the years of service here has proven that.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.