05/13/05 — What people in Wayne County are saying

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What people in Wayne County are saying

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on May 13, 2005 2:31 PM

The news that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base would not only remain open but add jobs due to realignment of other bases brought smiles to faces all around Wayne County this morning.

"There's a lot of happy people in Goldsboro today," said Lucille Dawson as she sat at Wilber's Barbecue. Ms. Dawson said she had been watching news reports since 5 a.m. to learn whether the base would be on the base closure list released by the Department of Defense.

"I was so afraid it was going to close," Ms. Dawson said. "I knew it would be bad on the economy."

The news brightened Ollie Toomey's day as well. The former manager of the county Chamber of Commerce said he knew that any reduction in the base's mission would hurt Wayne.

"Oh gee, isn't that good news? That is wonderful," he said while waiting for his take-out order.

Steve O'Donnell and his wife, Karen, sat at a nearby table. He said he believed Seymour Johnson's mission was too important for the base to close but that until the announcement came, no one could be sure.

Mrs. O'Donnell said she had been more worried than her husband. A native of Wayne County, she said closure "would kill this town."

Steven Gambella is the owner of the Five Star Restaurant and Caterers on Berkeley Boulevard. He called the news that the base was safe "excellent."

"The whole economy is based on the base," Gambella said. "This place would become a ghost town. I honestly believe it would."

At McFly's Barber and Style outside the main gate, Senior Airman Richard MacDonald was having his hair cut when he heard the news. He has been stationed at Seymour Johnson for two and a half years, working on the flight line for the 333rd fighter squadron.

"I'm happy about the news," he said. "We just bought a house so we didn't want it to close."

Across the street at the Grounds for Expression coffee shop, owner Starr Whitmore was relieved. She too, gets much of her business from the military.

"We were really concerned for a while," she said. "Then I said, 'I'm not going to worry about it.'"

With the announcement, she says she can now move ahead with plans to expand her business.

Albert Oates was having breakfast at the Huddle House with wife, Naomi, and daughter Allesha, 14, a student at Eastern Wayne Middle School.

"We were just talking about that," Oates said, when asked about his response to the base announcement.

Oates said he has lived in Goldsboro all his life and can't imagine the town without a base.

"Really, it's a part of Goldsboro," he said.

Mrs. Oates said she was relieved to hear the news.

"I was thinking about the business standpoint," she said. "It would be a great loss financially."

Allesha admitted she didn't know much about the subject but was glad the base will not be closing.

"All my friends would move away because most of them are military," she said.

At another table, Betty and Clayton Webber were having breakfast with their grandson, Davis Price, age 4. They had not seen a TV or heard the news mid-morning.

"This is wonderful," said Mrs. Webber, a secretary at First Baptist Church in Mount Olive. "We have a son-in-law that works out there so we're excited that it's not closing."

Webber, who grew up in Wayne County and works at Cooper Standard, said, "I didn't feel like it would close but I didn't know."

Bruce Gates is a realtor at Houser and Associates. He specializes in helping military families relocate.

"I retired from Seymour Johnson in October after almost 28 years," he said. "So I kind of have a feel for the pain that people go through when they pack up and go somewhere else."

He said all along he has known that the base has had a great relationship with the community, so he was optimistic about today's announcement.

"I did get a little anxious last night when I heard the wing commander was having a commander's call this afternoon," Gates said. "You always assume the worst."

There was understandable concern that should the base close, the real estate market would be affected, Gates said.

"Obviously, the housing market would have gone through a slump for a few years until the government decided how it would use that airfield," he said. "There's definitely been a slowdown as folks have waited to see how things would happen.

"It definitely would have been a buyer's market at reduced cost" if a different announcement had been made, he said.

Gates knows firsthand how base closures affect housing situations. He recalled when England Air Force Base in Louisiana closed nearly a decade ago.

"They have still not figured out what to do with that base," he said. While there were some commercial uses, he said it remains like a ghost town in the aftermath.

"They have not been able to utilize all the base housing," he said. "They're still recovering out there."

As a retired military officer, he said he likes the convenience of the base and is pleased things turned out the way they did.

"I'm happy that it's still looking to be here," he said.

"This is great news for the community and great news for the country," said Goldsboro Police Sgt. Tony Carmon, who is retired from the Air Force.

"Personally, I feel Golds-boro and Seymour are very closely related with each other," Carmon said. "Many people in the community and the base are interchangeable. They retire from the base and stay here."

Carmon's boss, Police Chief Tim Bell, said the news "has made my day. I would have been devastated to see anything happen to it."