Retired US Army Reserve 1st Sergeant Dennis Lapic continues to give back to the community long after his years of military service has ended. Lapic lives just outside of Pittsburgh and works to restore the historical buildings of Old Economy Village.
As a young man during the Vietnam draft area, Lapic’s number was never called. “Even though they never called me, it sort of weighed on me, like I should have served.”
So, at 34 years old, Lapic joined the US Army Reserves – just a year before the cutoff age to join. During his 24 years of service, Lapic was mobilized four different times-totaling more than four years of active duty service. Some of his most memorable experiences included serving as a UN Peacekeeper in Haiti, being in one of the first units to respond to the attack on the Pentagon, and spending one year in Iraq.
Lapic’s time in Iraq was a real turning point in his life. “It put things in perspective. All of the career advancements and business and career goals become so unimportant. Money, even though it’s not a true motivator, became no motivator at all to me.”
“You hear people say that their job is a bunch of crap, that’s what it all became to me, a bunch of crap,” he explained.
Lapic gained a new perspective on serving his country. He went to Iraq assigned to work in public affairs. But while there he found a new purpose. He accepted a position as a hospital liaison. His duties included tracking all of the incoming patients to identify who they were, and if they were assigned to his command he had to relay all of the patient information, his/her condition, etc. It was a lot of paperwork and logistical work. But there was a duty in that that became an honor. He found himself offloading incoming critical care patients that had been injured in combat and in IED blasts.
“Seeing a soldier with his head wrapped up from a bullet that ricocheted inside of his helmet, or seeing a small boy with wounds all through his body covered in bandages, or seeing a young woman’s hair come blowing in the wind when the MedEvac doors open, it totally puts things in perspective and makes you realize what you should focus on.”
Eventually, Lapic noticed that other soldiers who had also been in these same blasts, but had not sustained any visible injuries, who were escorting the critically injured patients were suffering too. While the medical staff was understandably preoccupied with the paramount task of trying to save lives, Lapic noticed that the escorts were often suffering from symptoms of Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (MTBI). He and some other hospital staff could see that they were showing signs of concussions and other non-visible injuries. He worked with medical specialists to develop a checklist to help catch these soldiers who were slipping through the cracks.
Because of all of his hard work and selflessness, he was awarded the Air Force Achievement medal for helping to identify over 250 soldiers whose brain injuries had gone undiagnosed.
“This whole experience made the trivial nature of life undeniable,” he explained. He knew that when he returned to the United States, he would need to do something meaningful with his life. While still in Iraq, Lapic enrolled in a two-year Historic Building Restoration and Preservation degree program.
Although Lapic had previously dabbled in restoration on other historic houses he bought in the 90’s, in 2010 after his return, he started the restoration of the Heslet House to its original glory. The Heslet House is located in Old Economy Village, an old historic settlement in Ambridge, PA. He turned the Heslet House into a bed and breakfast that he now owns and operates.
The log house is named after the original builder, Samuel A. Heslet, who may have been a Revolutionary War soldier. The house has multiple histories – from the early Republic, the Harmonist era, and the post-Harmonist era. Lapic takes his craft very seriously and honors the efforts of the original builder/architect. The Heslet House stands as a testament to this, as the relationship between skilled restoration expert and original builder is extremely evident. The Heslet House perfectly blends the beauty of nearly 200 years with the present, with its inclusion of beautifully restored features and carefully selected antique furniture, as well as WiFi and flat screen televisions.
Lapic’s bursting passion for restoration is obvious as he describes the process. “It’s almost like a time machine, getting into the mind of the builder and society of that time,” he explains.
He speaks of the pleasure that the original owners would have taken in the home, proudly displaying their handiwork as others slowly rolled by in horse-drawn wagons. Lapic verbally paints a scene of a peaceful history in which people took the time to build each piece of their home with pride and dedication.
Lapic dreams of restoring more of the historic buildings in Old Economy Village.
“I am always encouraging others to help to take on one of these restorations. It’s too big of a project for one person.” he said. “I am a cheerleader, and advocate for restoring Old Economy Village.”
Although it would be easy for Lapic to take all of the credit for his success, he is extremely grateful to his wife (Rose Mary), his best friend (Jason Korvick), and the VA Accelerator Program. This program is the Department of Veterans Affairs’ innovation to help Veterans in all phases of entrepreneurship, from initial self-assessment and business plan preparation through the launch and growth of successful businesses. As a service-disabled veteran, Lapic was eligible for assistance for starting his bed and breakfast. He was also provided with the necessary business counseling and coaching that helped him to create a business and marketing plan.
Lapic strongly encourages other service-disabled veterans to follow their dreams and reach for their goals.
“If you want to start a business and you are eligible, just take the time and follow all of the steps. It is so rewarding and certainly helps lead to success.”
The Heslet House Bed & Breakfast located in Old Economy Historic Village in Ambridge PA just 16 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and offers short and extended stay lodging accommodations for vacationers and business travelers.
To learn more about Lapic and his restoration projects, visit his website www.heslethouse.com.