Tahlequah Daily Press

August 29, 2013

Shelter being renovated for seniors

By TEDDYE SNELL
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

When severe weather strikes, the people often in harm’s way are those least able to care for themselves, including the elderly.

Retired registered nurse and nursing home developer-turned builder and contractor Veraman Davis said his passion is providing safe, affordable places for those in their golden years.

His latest development includes repurposing a bomb shelter built in the early 1950s. Now a storm shelter, it will provide a haven for residents of his new retirement complex, Billie Davis Retirement Homes, when severe weather or a tornado approaches.

“People who have never been in a tornado always say, ‘It’ll never happen to me,’” said Davis. “Those who have experienced one, never forget it.”

The complex, on North Jones Avenue between the United Methodist Children’s home and West Allen Road, has a number of units already finished. The shelter renovation should be complete at the same time the complex is finished.

Davis’ own homestead is a stone’s throw from the complex.

“We moved to this property back in 1952,” said Davis. “The place we’re standing on now was owned by the Britt family, who were pioneers to this area. Well, back in the ‘50s, the Britts  built the shelter. Back then, everyone was afraid of a nuclear holocaust with Russia.”

Given the fearful climate of the time, the shelter was built to include beds, tables, and just about anything a family would need to survive over the long haul.

“It’s 10 feet wide and runs all the way to the street,” said Davis. “It’s got 12-inch reinforced concrete walls and ceiling, and I can say it’s tough, because I’ve driving over the top of it a bunch of times with backhoes and bulldozers.”

The shelter is wheelchair-accessible, and will include a carpeted ceiling and walls to dampen the sound.

“Every single resident will have a key to the shelter, but I’ve appointed the man who lives [nearest to the shelter] kind of the deputy sheriff,” Davis said. “When a storm comes up, he’ll be here with the door open, helping people get in and get situated.”

The shelter has not yet been rated by the local branch of Civil Defense, but Davis said it will be before it opens in earnest.

“It functions as a shelter now; I have electricity run to it,” he said. “But we want to make it more comfortable for the residents.”

Anyone who has lived in the area for a while is probably familiar with the tornadoes that leveled Peggs, as well as the near-misses on the north end of town in the past decade.

“I grew up in the Peggs area, and we didn’t have the advanced warning systems we have now,” said Davis. “With the technology available, we can get residents in and safe at the first sign of a bad storm.”

Davis believes the facility is an asset, as many elderly and retired people lack the means and ability to drive to a designated shelter elsewhere.

“Caring for the elderly has always been my passion,” said Davis.

“Now that I’m retired, building nice, safe affordable retirement housing is what I focus on.”