More than a few tears of happiness and other emotions were shed in the crowd of more than 200 attending the groundbreaking ceremony for wounded Ballwin Police Officer Michael Flamion’s custom-built home scarcely a block away from his police department’s headquarters.
The hour-long event had Flamion and his wife, Sarah, smiling often as they acknowledged the crowd’s frequent applause and standing ovations, as well as accolades from a parade of speakers.
Located on a 1.1-acre homesite on the southwest corner of Holloway Road and Stoddards Mill Drive, the new home will contain just over 3,000 square feet and feature an open living space design that accommodates the paralyzed police officer’s use of a wheelchair for mobility. Included will be a variety of conveniences that will enable Flamion to control operations such as lighting, heating and air conditioning and the home’s security system with his smart phone and iPad.
The three-bedroom residence also includes a three-car garage and will be built on one level to facilitate movement from one area to another. The design includes a patio behind the home.
Flamion was paralyzed from the neck down when he was shot by the driver of a car he had stopped for a traffic violation last July on New Ballwin Road.
The Gary Sinise Foundation announced plans last year to build the home for Flamion as part of its efforts to help veterans and first responders seriously wounded in the line of duty. The residence will be the first in the nation built by the Foundation specifically for a police officer or other first responder.
The Foundation bears the name of its founder, the acclaimed movie and television actor best known for his role of Lt. Dan in the Academy Award-winning movie “Forrest Gump.”
Although Sinise was not at the groundbreaking, other Foundation representatives attended and participated. Included were Judy Otter, the foundation’s executive director; Jim Shubert, a foundation board member and owner of Shubert Design Furniture in Manchester; Scott Schaeperkoetter, director of operations for the Foundation’s RISE [Restoring Independent, Supporting Empowerment] Program; and Chris Kuban, a foundation spokesman who served as emcee for the event.
Otter said the goal is to have the new home completed by Thanksgiving, although weather conditions could affect that timetable.
Perhaps one of the ceremony’s most emotional moments came during remarks by Ballwin Police Chief Kevin Scott. After praising Ballwin as “the finest community on the face of the earth,” Flamion for his “unbelievable fortitude” and Shubert as “an unbelievable man … friend and mentor.”
Scott declared, “Mike is our brother. He belongs with us. He will never be alone.”
In his comments, Shubert observed, “Never have I seen a community rally around a first responder as the Ballwin area has” with Flamion. The Clarkson Valley resident said he first became familiar with the Ballwin police some 27 years ago when he built a home in the nearby community that Ballwin policed under contract. After Flamion’s horrific injury, he played a key role in convincing the Sinise Foundation board to expand its efforts to include first responders.
The foundation’s fundraising efforts for the smart home have gone well, but “we can still use some more cash,” she said. Reaching that goal includes a program that enables contributors to purchase a brick that will be used for the base of a flagpole at the residence. Those donating to the program can add individualized messages to the bricks they buy.
Anyone wanting more information about the “buy-a-brick” program should contact Hannah Hauserman, events coordinator at the Gary Sinise Foundation, at (818) 432-8975 or by email at email@example.com. Other contributions can be sent to the foundation at P.O. Box 50008, Studio City, CA 91614-5001.
In addition to Flamion’s new residence, the foundation also is modifying the Wentzville home of Craig and Christine Tudor. A Hazelwood police officer, Tudor was paralyzed in a rollover accident last August when his patrol car was hit by another vehicle while he was responding to a call.
The Tudors attended the Flamion groundbreaking ceremony.
Other speakers included representatives of local and national businesses and organizations that have partnered with the foundation to provide in-kind contributions and other support for its home building and modification efforts.
Police vehicles and the Patriot Guard Riders escorted the Flamions’ customized minivan to the homesite from a gathering point at a nearby business’ parking lot. The Riders group is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that ensures dignity and respect at memorial services and other events honoring military personnel, first responders and honorably discharged veterans.
In his response, with his wife holding the microphone for him, Flamion thanked the foundation and other supporters for all the help he has received. He added that he now is dependent on Sarah for everything and that the capabilities built into their new home “will give her a break.”
Other participants included the Metro West Fire Protection District color guard; St. Louis County Police Chaplain Byron Watson, who delivered the invocation; and Megan Besler, who sang the national anthem.