Colonel Francis (Len) Loving - USMC (Retired) - Jacksonville, FL
Colonel Len Loving was inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame due to his positive impact on Florida’s most at-risk veterans and their families by 1) opening what is now the Five STAR Veterans Center, 2) going many extra miles to keep the doors open, and 3) making a lasting, life-altering impact on those who are most significantly affected by their years in service and have nowhere else to turn.
Opening the Center: In late 2011, at the request of Allied Veterans of the World, Colonel Loving converted an aging nursing home into a place where homeless veterans could recover their dignity and build the skills necessary to regain control of their lives. In spring 2012, 20 homeless veterans were admitted. They were provided safe housing, meals, assistance obtaining VA Benefits and medical care, Internet access and basic job training.
Keeping the doors open: In 2013, just a year after opening what was then the Allied Veterans Center, disaster struck. The principals of Allied Veterans of the World were arrested for running illegal gambling cafes and the Center’s primary financial support was lost. Neither Colonel Loving nor the Veterans Center was associated or charged with any illegal dealings, but in the face of a challenging public image, and without funding, current residents were at risk of once again becoming homeless.
Colonel Loving is a firm believer in “No ‘man’ left behind”, and while it was a huge struggle to keep the doors open, under Colonel Loving’s leadership the Center survived. Colonel Loving established partnerships with Home Depot, Bank of America, Publix, Winn-Dixie, Olive Garden and other prominent organizations to secure food, volunteers, building materials and expertise, and monetary donations to help with utility bills and other miscellaneous expenses associated with keeping the doors open.
Colonel Loving stayed on as CEO and established a new board of directors, changed the Center name to Five STAR Veterans Center and solicited private donations. To this day, Colonel Loving works tirelessly to ensure the Centers ongoing financial viability. The Center does not receive any Federal or State funding, and often operates on a shoestring. The Colonel does not draw a salary and the Center continues to assist veterans, most who deal with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), substance abuse and addiction disorders. Five STAR also works with Jacksonville’s Veteran’s Court to provide oversight of veterans who would otherwise be incarcerated. In 2015, with support from the Community Foundation, he added onsite mental health counseling to better assist residents deal with their invisible wounds.
Lasting impacts: Today, five years after opening the doors, 170 veterans have lived at and benefited from the Five STAR Veterans Center; 29 veterans currently live at the center, and by fourth quarter 2017, the center expects to increase capacity another 35% and house 39 veterans.
The difference Colonel Loving is making in the lives of these men and women is significant and immeasurable. Having a combat background, Colonel Loving is a credible sounding board and mentor to those residents suffering with post war anxieties. He frequently provides them with much needed guidance and a non-judgmental shoulder to cry on. While 170 veterans have been helped through the resident program and almost 700 assisted as walk-ins and through outreach, the actual impact is much greater. For every veteran who learns to successfully manage his/her PTSD, TBI and/or addiction disorder, a family may be reunited (improving the lives of parents, siblings, spouses and children), incarceration may be avoided and one more person enters the workforce. The actual impact Colonel Loving and the Five STAR Veterans Center has had on veterans and veteran families over the past five years is easily in the thousands. Also, while statistics tell us 22 returning soldiers commit suicide each day, to date, no Five STAR residents have done so.
A few examples of how Colonel Loving has made and continues to make a difference:
Corporal Mason Dwyer, USMC, Five Star Resident:
After Corporal Mason Dwyer left the Marines, he spent years just coasting through life, occasionally experiencing panic attacks. He frequently self-medicated by drinking, including “breakfast beers”. He became estranged from his family and homeless, crashing at various friends’ houses until he wore out his welcome. Finally, a caring friend and fellow marine told him he was done with him unless he went to Five STAR to get some help. Shortly after, in August 2015, he moved into the Five STAR Veterans Center. “Five STAR helped me get and remain sober, and provided me the opportunity, guidance and confidence to start a catering business. Today I continue to run my catering business while also serving as Five STAR’S onsite Operations Manager. I am thankful for Colonel Loving, who is the epitome of the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis – he is ‘always faithful’ to every veteran who walks through his door. He and his wife Suzie gave me my life back and gave my family back their son/brother. My family and I are forever grateful.”
E-4 Specialist Ron Speakman, US Army, Five Star Resident:
After experiencing divorce, being laid off from his job and being involved in a car accident, Ron Speakman gave into his gambling addiction and ended up living six months in the back of a borrowed car. He learned about Five STAR when he went to enroll at FSCJ, not knowing where he would live or how he would afford the basic tools he needed to complete his education. Colonel Loving ensured Ron had a room, meals, a laptop and access to transportation, which gave him just the hand-up he needed to get his Automotive Service Management Technology degree. Ron has since purchased a truck and trailer, started a moving business that employs other Five STAR residents, and provides handyman and car repair services for the Center. “Without Colonel Loving and the Five STAR Veterans Center, I would not have had the resources to complete my education or the stability to start my business. I’d likely still be where I started. Colonel Loving is one of the most selfless, wise and patient people I have ever met. I am very grateful to him and the existence of the Five STAR Veterans Center.”
Chad Childers, Army, 2nd Ranger Battalion, Ft. Lewis, WA:
After serving tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Chad Childers returned with a metal plate and six screws in his right leg. He also returned with both PTSD and a TBI. Initially, everything was fine on the surface. He had a good job, was married with a daughter, and lived in a nice neighborhood near the beach. But eventually he began drinking heavily to cope with his PTSD; he lost his job, his marriage and access to his daughter, was sleeping in his car, and had no money and nowhere to go. Thankfully, he discovered Five STAR, where he was provided the resources to get back on his feet, including mental health and substance abuse counseling specifically geared to those dealing with PTSD. After making impressive progress. Colonel Loving helped Chad find a job. Chad now lives on his own in a home he rents from Five STAR, and is able to spend quality time with his daughter. Chad sums it up by saying: “/ owe my life to Colonel Loving. If it wasn’t for him, I might still be homeless or even dead. I not only consider him a role model, but also a friend. I would follow him into any battle.”
Andrew J. Parker, Private, Regular Army:
While serving in Iraq and after suffering with PTSD, Private Andrew Parker began self medicating with drugs, ultimately leading to an Under Honorable Condition (General) discharge. This discharge status meant he was not eligible for compensation or education benefits, making it difficult for him to find meaningful employment. After years of homelessness, he came to Five STAR, where Colonel Loving made sure Andrew received mental health counseling for his PTSD. Andrew became a model resident. With Colonel Loving’s assistance and full endorsement, appropriate paperwork was filed and the Army Discharge Review Board voted 5-0 to upgrade Andrew Parker’s discharge status to Honorable, restoring his eligibility for full VA benefits.
John Holzbaur, CDR, USN (Ret), Military and Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Defender, Florida Fourth Judicial Circuit:
“When he opened the Five STAR Veterans Center, Colonel Loving had the foresight to create a structured environment well-suited for post-military residents who need to rebuild their lives. As a result of this structure and Colonel Loving’s willingness to work with the Public Defender’s Office in support of our at-risk veterans, many young men and women who would otherwise have to work on their rehabilitation in jail are doing so in a residential environment with the camaraderie and support of military brother and sisters who are similarly struggling. Our jurisdiction simply would not have a national-model Veterans Treatment Court without the partnership of the Five STAR Veterans Center. The importance of stable housing for holistic recovery simply cannot be overstated. It’s a huge win for the involved Florida veterans.”
Former Congressman Ander Crenshaw:
“As a Member of the Appropriations Committee in the U.S. Congress, I worked every day on issues for a variety of things important to our Nation. None is more important than our military, both those serving today and those who served in earlier years. I have seen many veterans’ programs over the years that performed services for veterans, but it was my privilege to point to my hometown of Jacksonville to highlight one of the most successful – the Five STAR Veterans Center. At Five STAR there is 100 percent total dedication by the staff, led by Retired Colonel Len Loving, USMC, to support veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan struggles to successfully re-enter civilian life. After a long, distinguished career serving our country in the Marine Corps, Col. Loving chose to spend his retirement giving back to the young men and women who followed him in the service. The Florida Veterans Hall of Fame honors those veterans for community service after military service. Colonel Len Loving has dedicated his life to providing for those young veterans who selflessly defended our country against terrorism.”
EDUCATION AND TRAINING ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Len Loving was born and raised in Richmond, VA. In 1956 he began attending Southern Benedictine College in Cullman, AL on a basketball scholarship, and in 1960 graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business Management. Having attended the Marine Platoon Leaders Course (PLC) during the summers after his freshman and junior years, in 1960 he began his 30-year military career as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. During his military service, Len Loving continued his education. He took graduate classes through the Marine Command and Staff College (1968-69) and completed his graduate degree in Industrial Personnel Management and Labor Relations at George Washington University while stationed in Washington DC (1969-72).
PROFESSIONAL OR EMPLOYMENT HISTORY
MILITARY & VETERAN-RELATED EMPLOYMENT HISTORY:
Len Loving’s professional life began in the military and continues to circle back to military- related endeavors. 1960 through 1989, Len Loving served 30 years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps, departing as a Colonel, with distinction as a Marine Infantry Officer.
14 years after retiring from the Marine Corps, Len served as the Military Affairs Advisor to the Office of the Florida Senate President, Jim King (2003-5). In this role he was heavily involved with BRAC (Base Realignment and Consolidation), working diligently with military bases throughout Florida to evaluate their vulnerabilities, and ensure the state senate was well- informed about Florida-based military assets and had the appropriate level of information to defend and preserve them. As a result of his efforts, no Florida bases were closed during that time and several bases received additional units from other areas of the country.
In 2011, Colonel Loving began what is perhaps his most meaningful professional undertaking: building and opening what is now the Five STAR Veterans Center, where he continues to serve as CEO. He oversees all aspects of this center, which provides food, housing, assistance securing veteran benefits, financial and mental health counseling, and more to about 30-plus homeless veterans at a time. The ultimate goal with each veteran is to recover their health and dignity, reestablish relationships, become gainfully employed and reclaim their independence.
OTHER EMPLOYMENT HISTORY
Since retiring from the Marines, Colonel Loving has stayed busy. In addition to the above Military and Veteran-related positions, he also worked in the following non-military/non- veteran-related positions, most of which directly impacted the Florida economy.
- 1989-91: Sealand Services Inc. – Project Manager, Construction Coordinator
- 1992-93: Travelstead Corporation – Assistant Project Manager for completion of Ritz Carlton Resort in Barcelona, Spain in support of 1992 Olympics
- 1993-1995: Morales & Schumer Engineering Co. – Project Manager for environmental assessment of the Wynn’s Creek Estuary for the Jacksonville Port Authority
- 1995-2004: Office of State Comptroller, Department of Banking and Finance, Director, NE Regional Office – Responsible for banking, mortgage and securities compliance in 17 Florida counties and Certificate of Need compliance for cemeteries
- 2005-2007: Foster parent to three children 5, 7 and 11 years old
- 2008-2011: Family Support Services of North FL – Part-time consultant for project coordination – Worked directly with churches to sponsor foster homes, providing them with materials and emotional assistance.
During his time in the Marine Corps, Colonel Loving earned a number of military decorations, including the Legion of Merit w/ Gold STAR, Bronze STAR w/ combat (V*), Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation with Two STARs, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Viet Nam Cross of Gallantry with Silver STAR, Humanitarian Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the Coast Guard Special Operational Ribbon. *The “V” stands for Valor!
ADVOCACY ON BEHALF OF VETERANS
Colonel Loving has a deep history of veteran advocacy. Through his long-time memberships with the Jacksonville Semper Fidelis Society, Viet Nam Veterans of America and Marine Corps League, he has served as an advocate and mentor to younger and older veterans. He is a regular spokesperson for veteran needs and programs, appearing on local television broadcasts, in front of local groups and as a source for local newscasters seeking the veteran perspective on various veteran-related issues and events. Perhaps the most pronounced example of Col. Loving’s commitment to veterans started in 2011 when he undertook the role of building, sustaining and continuing to grow and expand what is now the Five STAR Veterans Center. Teaming with Feeding Northeast Florida, several times a year Colonel Loving’s Five STAR Veterans Center hosts Food Give-away events for area veterans and its low income neighbors. Too often, active duty and recently released Veterans and their families have difficulty making ends meet. One way the Colonel and Five STAR help is by providing them priority placement in line and, in some cases, delivering food directly to them. An estimated 350 families are helped at each event.
CIVIC ACTIVITIES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Len is an active member of the Jacksonville Semper Fidelis Society, Viet Nam Veterans of America – Chapter 1046, and the Marine Corp League, Chapter 59. For 12 years (1995-2007) he served as Precinct Chairman for the Duval Republican Party. He spent 13 years (1996-2009) as a member of the Jacksonville International Development Commission, a mayoral appointment by Mayor John Delaney, serving as chairman from 1999 to 2003. Len twice served as President of the Greater Jacksonville USO (2004-5 and 2008-9).
1986 – Present, Colonel Loving has served on the Jacksonville Chamber’s Military Issues Committee, an advisory committee to the North Florida Regional Chamber of Commerce on military and veteran issues.
1997-2016, he served as a volunteer Board member for the Fleet Landing Retirement Community. Fleet Landing is a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) originally created to serve military retirees. Col. Loving served on the Board and on various Board committees.
In 2000, Colonel Loving served on the Duval County Consolidated Review Committee. This committee reviews and makes recommended updates to the City/County consolidated government charter, including items such as term limits.
AWARDS OR HONORS
Despite his efforts to stay out of the limelight. Colonel Loving has been recognized for his work with veterans on a number of occasions. He was a 2015 Veterans of Influence Honoree (Jacksonville Business Journal: http://www.bizjournals.com/iacksonville/print- edition/2015/10/02/len-loving-ceo-five-STAR-veterans-center.html): at the nomination of retired Brigadier General Mike Fleming, he was also the 2015 Chamber of Commerce RDML Kevin Delaney Veteran Hall of Fame Award recipient. This recognition is annually awarded at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Military Appreciation luncheon to the veteran who has done the most for the Jacksonville community. And as noted above, Len was a decorated military officer.