Army veteran finds support, and a Mustang, in San Luis Obispo

Janette Pritchett, a 32-year-old Army veteran, was given this Mustang as she gets back on her feet after a separation from her husband. She now has a small apartment in San Luis Obispo and is taking classes at Cuesta College.
Janette Pritchett, a 32-year-old Army veteran, was given this Mustang as she gets back on her feet after a separation from her husband. She now has a small apartment in San Luis Obispo and is taking classes at Cuesta College. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Janette Pritchett sat outside her San Luis Obispo apartment last Friday in a plastic Adirondack chair, occasionally gazing toward the street, where a yellow Ford Mustang convertible was parked by the curb.

“Every time I look at it, I can’t believe it,” she said.

About six months have passed since Pritchett, 32, separated from her husband and left their Paso Robles home. She wanted to stay close to their three children, so she moved to the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter in San Luis Obispo.

“When I first got here it was really hard,” Pritchett recalled. “I was trying to do the most I could to not look at this as a bad situation.”

An Army veteran — Pritchett met her husband while both were stationed at Camp Stanley in South Korea in 2002 — she was connected with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program through the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County.

She received support that helped her find a job, get a small apartment and start classes in sociology at Cuesta College. For months, Pritchett rode buses to fill out paperwork, see her children and attend class.

But she still lacked a vehicle.

A special car

In southern Oregon, Rick Elliott had tried for more than a year to find the right person to give his late wife’s beloved car — a black and yellow Mustang.

Before his wife of 34 years, Kathie, died of cancer in May 2014, the couple had talked a lot about her “happy car” and what she wanted done with it.

We decided it needed to go to a woman in the military who was down on her luck.

Rick Elliott, Oregon resident whose late wife owned a beloved Ford Mustang

As a surgical emergency room nurse, Kathie Elliott had volunteered with the Northwest Medical Team in refugee camps in Albania during the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s. She was comforted by the sight of Black Hawk helicopters overhead, her husband said, and had extraordinary support for military personnel.

“We both had a real admiration for our military people,” Rick Elliott said. “We decided that it needed to go to a woman who had been in the military and was down on her luck.”

But they didn’t have anyone specific in mind. Rick Elliott worked with the local veterans’ services office to find someone for more than a year, but nothing had worked out.

In the meantime, Elliott had signed up on farmersonly.com, a niche dating website.

He sent a message to a Paso Robles woman, but thought the chances of them meeting were slim because they live more than 500 miles apart.

A chance meeting

Loretta Borges had left her Paso Robles home to drive with a friend to Idaho. They were heading home in July from Boise through Oregon where her car broke down in Lakeview — the same town where Rick Elliott lives.

Borges sent him an email: You’re not going to believe this but I’m in Lakeview, she typed.

The next morning, Rick Elliott took Borges and her friend to breakfast, where they started talking about Borges’ volunteer work with Honor Flight Central Coast California, which transports veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorials.

“He asked if I ever did anything with young veterans,” Borges recalled. “He told me the story about his wife, and I said ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ ”

Through a mutual acquaintance, Borges got in touch with Sandra Gould, a lead case manager for the SSVF program. Gould said she thought of Pritchett.

“She was working extremely hard at maintaining employment and getting housing,” Gould said, “so she immediately popped into mind for me.”

Gould typed up a brief summary about Pritchett and sent it to Borges.

“I got home Friday, and by Tuesday I had a name,” Borges added.

‘A good fit’

“The following week we had a résumé on this gal,” Rick Elliott said. “They had references and everything. It was a good fit.”

Once Elliott decided that Pritchett would be the one to receive the Mustang, the only thing left to do was get it to California.

Robert Ellis, the SSVF program manager for the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, drove to Oregon in early August with a pickup and a trailer and brought the car back. (No money from the SSVF program was used for the car, he said. San Luis Obispo County Womenade covered the cost of his gasoline and hotel stay.)

“It means everything in the world,” Elliott said. “That’s what she (Kathie) wanted done with it. That was her car, her toy and by golly if that’s what she wanted done with it, that’s what was going to happen.”

When he arrived back in San Luis Obispo County, Ellis drove it straight over to Pritchett’s home. Her three kids — ages 5, 8 and 12 — were with her at the time.

Not only do I need it and will use it, but it’s like my dream car. Who can say thank you enough?

Janette Pritchett, San Luis Obispo resident and Army veteran

“I knew I had got a car,” Pritchett recalled. “But I didn’t know what kind.”

When Ellis pulled up, he saw Pritchett peeking out at the street.

“I said, ‘Are you Janette?’ ” Ellis said.

“She said, ‘Is that my car?’ And then she broke down,” he said. “I parked it in the parking lot and gave her the keys. It was wonderful.”

For Pritchett, the car will make it easier for her to see her children. They’re already talking about plans for Halloween.

“It is being used for everything they hoped it would be used for,” she said. “I hope they realize I do appreciate it.”

As she spoke, Pritchett played with a beaded key chain that Elliott had passed along from his wife, with a typed note from Kathie about the car, which she called her “little pony.”

Elliott also had changed the battery, paid for the title to be transferred and sent along money for it to be registered.

“Who gets a car?” Pritchett said Friday. “Not only do I need it and will use it, but it’s like my dream car. Who can say thank you enough?”