Richard’s Coffee Shop in Mooresville honors veterans with displays

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 16, 2014

For the past couple of years, my daughter, Kelly, has shared about one of her co-workers at Team Penske Racing, Wayne Agee From time to time Kelly mentioned how nice he was and that she wanted me to meet him. Several weeks ago, I did just that at Richard’s Coffee Shop on North Main Street in Mooresville.
Even though the sign out front says, “Richard’s Coffee Shop,” anyone passing by will get the first hint there’s more since everything in the large display window is related to the military. In charge of setting up displays, Wayne is proud of that window. Kelly, with her artistic ability, has helped by drawing and painting large signs and pictures, including a helicopter and helmet.
Having collected military artifacts for more than 20 years, Wayne has enough items for a different theme every three months. It takes two people about eight hours to set up, so he’s thankful his friend Janice Tate volunteers to help. The first display of this year is the Cold War, and I was amazed at how one person could collect so many items related to that theme, including a real sign from Checkpoint Charlie. Preserving information and knowledge so future generations will understand the price of freedom, Wayne said, “This kind of thing is my passion.”
Like many who frequent the coffee shop, Wayne heard about it through word of mouth. Gary Brooks, a friend of his, shared the news after learning about it during a car show in downtown Mooresville nine years ago. Since his first visit the very next Saturday, Wayne has invited about 50 people to the coffee shop, including me.
Spending six years in the Navy, first on an ammunition ship and then a destroyer, Wayne has stories to tell from tours in the Mid-Atlantic, Mediterranean, Suez Canal and even Iran. He says Richard’s Coffee shop is the perfect place to hang out with other veterans, sharing those stories because you get not only a cup of coffee, but also a listening ear.
The coffee shop was started by and later named for Richard Warren, a Huey helicopter gunship pilot who flew 29 missions during the Vietnam war. When the shop first opened, it was named “Pat’s,” after his wife. With the business not doing as well in the early years as he had hoped and with free time on his hands, Richard often stood on the sidewalk, talking to people as they went by, asking if they were a veteran.
He invited them in for a cup of coffee, and little by little word spread that Pat’s was a great place for veterans to hang out. As word spread, not only did veterans come in for coffee, but they came in for companionship and a chance to take their mind off their troubles, if only for a little while. Before long, some of them began bringing in military memorabilia such as photos and uniforms, finding a place for them on the walls of the shop.
With the collection of memorabilia and patrons continuing to grow, after about 14 years, it became obvious Richard needed a larger place. It was also about that time a non-profit group formed called, “Welcome Home Veterans.” Sadly, Richard passed away a few months after the group formed. Becoming even more dedicated to making sure veterans would have a place to meet and carry on Richard’s legacy, they moved to South Main Street until the current and much larger location at 165 N. Main St. became available.
Through fund-raisers and generous donations, “Welcome Home Veterans” acquired this space now known as Richard’s Coffee Shop.
Opening the front door to the coffee shop, visitors immediately see military artifacts beginning with the Revolutionary War on the wall to the left. Continuing around the room displays of each and every war can be seen, highlighting the magnitude of the sacrifices made by our veterans.
Pride, patriotism and thankfulness became a part of my experience in viewing this historical record. Those feelings continued as wall after wall revealed more of America’s military history, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While touring the facility, Wayne showed me Richard’s photo and medals. “Serving in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, Richard knew what fighting and war could do to a person,” Wayne said. “That kind of pain motivated him to somehow alleviate it for others.”
Standing quietly for a few minutes, as if in tribute to Richard’s memory, Wayne then took me into a large open area where on Saturday mornings live music is played, including blue grass, gospel and crowd favorites. Talking loudly above the music, Wayne said, about 20 guitar, banjo and fiddle players show up each week. Laughter, smiles and foot tapping were indications everyone was having a great time.
Introducing me to several buddies at a side table, Wayne proudly pointed out their plaque which said, “Friendly Table.” He then explained, just like in church, the regulars have a favorite table or spot they claim as their own. I asked two of the veterans at the “Friendly Table,” Roy Boyd and Skip Alexander, how they learned about Richard’s Coffee Shop. Just like Wayne, they said, “By word of mouth.”
I walked around the room on my own for a while. One of the displays that brought tears to my eyes was the memorial set up near the back. Next to a folded flag on a small table was a photo, including name and rank of a veteran and patron who had recently passed away. On the wall behind were more photos, including Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Rodolfo P. Hernandez.
Those dealing with grief from their loss must feel fortunate chaplain (Padre) Leo Fahey is available for counseling and a listening ear.
Slowly stepping away from the memorial, as I looked around the room, observing fellowship and conversation, my thought was, “I wish every town had a Richard’s Coffee Shop.” I mentioned that to John Noe, a regular and also a proud Marine, and he said Richard often heard that comment.
“When people asked Richard how to get something similar started in their town or community, he would answer, ‘You just do it,’” John said.
Little did I know at the time that Thelma’s Down Home Country Cooking restaurant in my hometown of Salisbury was planning to “just do it.” I later learned from Susan Shinn’s column in the Salisbury Post that it all started when Tom Harrell, a local veteran and regular at Richard’s Coffee Shop, approached Thelma about the idea.
A veteran who served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Thelma liked the idea so much, she now serves veterans free coffee and doughnuts every Tuesday morning from 9 to 11 in her restaurant in the former Salisbury Mall, now West End Plaza. Through this one gesture, it’s almost like Richard’s words have come to life. Hopefully, other towns and communities will embrace this idea as well.
Ralph Dagenhart, manager of Richard’s Coffee Shop, wants everyone to know how thankful they are for the support from the community.
“Continuing Richard’s vision of a place where veterans can take a load off their body, mind and soul wouldn’t be possible without the efforts and donations from individuals and local businesses, such as Wells Fargo Bank, Hendrick Automotive Group, Applebees, Bojangles and Sam’s Club,” Ralph says.
I’ve driven through downtown Mooresville many times right pass Richard’s Coffee Shop, never realizing what was going on inside. I’m so glad Kelly insisted I meet Wayne and I’m glad he took me on a tour.
To learn more about this unique place, stop by for coffee, a sandwich or a tour, Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., or check out their website at Welcome Believe you me, it’s worth a trip to Mooresville.
If you play a banjo or guitar, bring it along. You don’t have to be a veteran to play with the group, all you have to do is know how to have fun.
Dicy McCullough’s books are available in local bookstores, and Barnes and Noble. Contact her at 704-278-4377.