BURRILLVILLE/NORTH SMITHFIELD – The family of an 87-year-old Korean War veteran and longtime Burrillville resident is seeking help for their proud patriarch, noting that he is now working in order to pay off the debt left by the recent passing of his wife.
Robert Ackley, who currently resides in North Smithfield, served in the Navy, and has been a member of the Wallum Lake Rod & Gun Club, the North Smithfield VFW, the Woonsocket VFW and AmVets in Zephyrhills, Fl. He was a long-time employee of Tupperware in Slatersville, and a manager at Ameron Plastics in Leominster, Mass.
Ackley’s brother and best friend, Richard Ackley, also a Korean War veteran, died last February. Over the summer, Ackley lost his son, Robert Ackley Jr., who served in the Army. Robert Jr., who lived in Kansas, died of Covid-19.
And Ackley Sr.’s wife, Sandra Ackley, died this past December, a loss that also resulted in, “insurmountable,” debt, according to grandson Shawn McConnell. The 87-year-old, who had previously retired, has now returned to work to pay off the bills, and to fund his wife’s cremation.
“That’s the type of man he is,” said McConnell, noting that his grandfather believes, “if you’re in a hole, you have to dig yourself out.”
“I agree to an extent, but not when the man affected is 87-years-old, a war veteran, a man that has never asked for help, but has helped anyone in need and truly deserves to be stress-free during this point in his life,” McConnell said. “My immediate family and I have mitigated the bleeding, but the amount of debt is too much to bear.”
“We are currently assisting him with his search for more suitable work to make ends meet while receiving assistance from immediate family members,” McConnell noted on a GoFundMe page created Tuesday, Feb. 8. “Our goal is to allow him to live stress-free during his remaining years, pay off debts and creditors, prevent him from working because he has to rather than wanting to, and to financially provide for cremation services for his recently passed wife.
North Smithfield resident Michael Clifford said he recently stumbled upon the fundraiser and learned of Ackley’s plight. McConnell was born and raised in Burrillville, only recently moving to North Carolina, and Clifford recognized the name from when he served as a guidance counselor at Burrillville High School.
Before this week, the two hadn’t spoken in more than 15 years.
Now, Clifford is hoping to help draw attention to the local veteran in need, and to put him in touch with others who can help.
On Tuesday, Clifford pointed to Ackley’s hardship in making a case for veteran tax exemptions that are based on financial need in North Smithfield, rather than blanket efforts currently under consideration.
“This resident actually lives in the town of North Smithfield,” Clifford said.
According to Clifford, 26 communities in Rhode Island utilize some type of, “circuit breaker,” with exemptions that increase as income goes down.
“Most communities have that. Target the poor people who need it,” Clifford said, noting that many local veterans have pensions and other forms of income. “The primary need in this town is to have something need-based for all groups.”
“This exists in North Smithfield, and they don’t come running here begging for help,” he told councilors at a meeting this week. “That’s why I’m advocating for these people.”
As for McConnell and family, they’ll settle for suitable work for Ackley, noting that he is well-known for his handyman and custodial work, famous ‘fish & chips’ during his time in the VFW/AmVets kitchens, expertise in hunting and fishing, painting, appliance repairs, golfing, and exceptional conversational skills.
“As of last week, he was striping floors,” McConnell told NRI NOW.
“If you are unable to make a donation but have job opportunities suitable for an 87 year old man that is capable of outworking those more than half of his age, please let us know,” the GoFundMe page notes.
In addition to financial assistance, the family is seeking information on veteran’s assistance programs, advice, and other resources. As of Tuesday, Feb. 23, they had raised $2,235 of their $5,000 goal.
McConnell believes his grandfather deserves the break he’ll never ask for.
“He is a man that would help anyone in need and would never ask for anything in return,” McConnell said. “A guy his age and what he’s done for his community – he shouldn’t have to work anymore.”