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Army retirees finally have place of their own

Kari Everett and her husband, Michael Everett, often sit and watch the building process of their new home at Amelia Square in downtown Fredericksburg. The career Army colonels have never owned their own home while on active duty. (Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star)

By CATHY DYSON

Michael and Kari Everett have lived around the world during their decades in the Army, but never experienced the American dream of owning their own home.

After 29 years of married and military life—including nine overseas tours and 17 moves—that’s about to change. The two are preparing to put down roots, in the new Amelia Square development in Fredericksburg.

“It’s been a great life for both of us, to serve,” Kari said, “but I’ve been waiting my whole life to say, ‘I’m home forever.’”

The Everetts’ enthusiasm about owning their first home has spilled over to bankers and builders, real estate agents and anyone else who has seen them sitting in plastic chairs at the construction site and watching their dreams take shape.

“They’ve worked all their lives for this, that’s what’s so special,” said Robin Huddle, senior vice president at Virginia Partners Bank, which is financing their mortgage.

She recalled a time when they came by the bank to sign paperwork. Tellers watched as the couple walked up the hall from Huddle’s office, grinning at everyone.

“Then they went outside and embraced and gave each other the biggest kiss, right there on the street,” Huddle said. “How often do you see somebody embrace in front of a bank building? All the tellers got teary-eyed.”

NINE TOURS, 17 MOVES

Huddle said the Everetts are so excited to be a part of the Fredericksburg community that they’re as giddy as kids.

That’s an unusual description for two Army colonels who have specialized in operational plans (he) and signal corps (she) during their careers.

They’ve done nine tours in Asia, Europe and the Pacific islands and moved 17 times, often from one continent to another. He has been deployed to four combat zones; she has gone to three.

They’ve lived apart for about 10 years of their time in uniform, “which isn’t bad for the Army,” said Kari, whose name is pronounced Car-ee.

There have been times her unit was leaving while his was returning, and the two waved to each other on the airfield. Once, as she came back from Korea and he headed to the Philippines, a senior officer in her unit realized the situation and delayed her flight.

“When you haven’t seen each other in months, and you get 30 minutes together to talk, right there on the tarmac, that means a lot,” she said, adding that she has seen these “small kindnesses” often during her career. “You do the best you can to help each other.”

The Everetts have had a variety of roofs over their heads, including tents and military barracks.

When they were fresh out of college and new to the Army, they lived in a two-bedroom apartment. They couldn’t afford furniture and sat on the floor.

They eventually enjoyed a four-story duplex built into the side of a hill in Germany, a converted barn in Belgium and houses in Europe so colorful that they looked as if the Easter bunny did the decorating.

But every home belonged to someone else, be it Uncle Sam or a foreign landlord.

‘IT’S TERRIBLY EXCITING’

As the Everetts contemplated retiring, they thought about settling in Europe or going back to California, where she grew up and both attended college.

Michael was familiar with the Fredericksburg area because his mother, now deceased, and brother lived in Stafford County.

He heard about the brownstones being built at Amelia Square, where Fredericksburg Hardware used to be. Kari was in Germany, and he sent her architectural renderings of the community, pegged as the place “where luxury and sophistication reside.”

The two felt that “Fredericksburg was calling out” to them, Kari said. Last summer, after much discussion, they made the decision to pour their life savings into Unit 3, a four-story brownstone for about $800,000.

About the same time, Michael got the chance to turn his hobby—military paraphernalia—into a job. He retired from the Army, moved in with his brother and started working at Johnson Reference Books and Militaria in Stafford.

He drives past the construction site once or twice a day to look around and talk with builders.

“It’s terribly exciting,” said Michael, whose eyes twinkle at the mention of Colonial red bricks and burnished wrought-iron banisters.

He sends regular updates to Kari, who’s stationed in Germany, then will be in Georgia until later this month, when she’ll retire after 30 years.

She’s 52, and Michael is 51. He served for 29 years.

‘I WILL BE THERE FOREVER’

Kari recalls packing up before the couple came stateside from Germany in June 2011.

They haven’t seen their furniture or anything else they own, except their cars, since then. Everything is in storage until they unpack for the last time.

“Michael says the only way he’s leaving [Amelia Square] is feet-first,” Kari said.

She was wrapping up a print they bought as a young couple, when they were stationed on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. It was framed with “that beautiful koa wood that only grows in Hawaii,” Kari recalled, “and at the time, it seemed like a fortune.”

The picture has been hung in a place of pride wherever they lived, over a mantel when they had one or in whatever room or den they spent the most time in.

“I was thinking, ‘The next time I hang this up, I will be there forever,’” she said, smiling. “You don’t know what a wonderful thing that is.”

DINNER AT HOME

The Everetts celebrated their decision to put down roots last summer, long before the first shovel of dirt was turned.

When Kari was in Afghanistan, she had seen two white chairs along a street in a small village and was amazed by the flow of life surrounding the objects.

Sometimes she’d see kids sitting there, paused on their way to or from school. Or old men talking about times gone by, or a mother changing a baby’s diaper.

She brought the same ambience to her new home. She put a table and two Adirondack chairs, the color of pale cantaloupe, at the approximate location of their home. When construction began, Michael moved to the chairs to the closed-off Winchester Street.

During the summer—or whenever Kari was in town—the Everetts regularly brought a bottle of wine and a pizza to the site on nights when they wanted dinner at home.

“We sat there and watched the sunset,” she said. “I’m sure people thought we were crazy.”

HISTORIC AND MODERN

In the past few years, Kari has kept a list of amenities she and Michael wanted in their own home and happily shared those with Patrick Gay, the builder with Simply Home. They’re thrilled that the brownstone has an elevator because both have banged-up knees or backs, she said, from hopping out of too many helicopters.

They wanted real fireplaces, not gas ones, as well as an outside fireplace on the fourth-floor balcony.

Michael’s “man cave” will take up the whole top floor, and Kari will have the kitchen she has always wanted, with Bosch appliances, an island in the middle and a stove with five burners so she can cook to her Italian heart’s desire.

She’ll have windows in the closets because she likes natural light, and he’ll have the heated floors he enjoyed overseas.

“It’s kind of neat to see what they’ve drawn upon,” said Gay, the builder. “They’ll have a real historically accurate brownstone on the outside and some real modern amenities on the inside.”

The Everetts plan to enjoy a lot of sunsets from their balcony, and believe its fourth-story location will give them optimum views.

They also look forward to the day when they can walk, shop and dine downtown after they move in, perhaps by April 1.

Until then, they’ll monitor the progress of their first home from the comfort of plastic chairs.

“Not many people get to see their house built,” Michael said.

Kari added: “Not many people get to see their dreams built.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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