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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Women of the Year: Gold Star mother turns son’s death into mission to help veterans

Theresa Hart’s grief still shuts her down some eight years after her son was killed in Iraq. Her outlet for all that pain is to make sure other veterans get anything they need, for free, to ease their transition back to what most people know as normal.

Her son, Nicholas W. Newby, 20, of Coeur d’Alene, was killed on July 7, 2011, in Baghdad. He was a specialist with the 145th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Calvary Heavy Brigade Combat Team out of Post Falls. The same roadside bomb killed Sgt. Nathan R. Beyers and injured Staff Sgt. Jason Rzepa, both also serving in the Idaho National Guard.

Hart had been working as a registered nurse. But the work seemed empty to her after losing her son. So in 2013, inside her garage, she founded Newby-ginnings of North Idaho Inc., a thrift store of sorts where people could donate items that she would then re-gift to any veteran or active service member who needed it.

“It’s been eight years since we lost Nick. I don’t think I have fully accepted it,” Hart said. “I think that’s one of the reasons I started Newby-ginnings. Before I lost Nick, I thought those who died in the service of our country happened to people far away.

“When I became a Gold Star mother, you get pulled into the Gold Star-family fold,” she continued. “Now I know a lot of mothers who lost children. That is part of my mission now. I want people to remember those we lost and appreciate the cost of our freedom.”

With a humble start, Newby-ginnings has only one paid employee who coordinates some 50 volunteers. The thrift store, located at 570 S. Clearwater Loop, Unit A, next to the Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls, has more than 3,500 registered veterans and active service members who have used the nonprofit.

“It just keeps getting bigger, bigger and bigger,” Hart said. “We are already talking about expanding again even though we have expanded four times in six years. The need is great but the generosity of the community is great as well. That is how we are able to do what we do.”

The Veterans Administration and Goodwill Industries International Inc. have programs to help homeless people find housing. But Newby-ginnings then helps the veterans with all the things they need to make those houses into homes, Hart said.

“Sometimes, they are moving in with nothing but a backpack or a lawn chair. Their case manager brings them in to see us and we give them everything they need for a new home,” she said. “We give them dressers, a bed and even washers and dryers.”

One homeless vet was living in his car. “He came in just to get some clothes,” Hart said.

All they need is a government-issued identification card showing they served. “We don’t care what is in their bank account,” she said. “We have so many active service members who come in here to go treasure hunting. It’s just a neat place to hang out and talk to people.”

But she also directs them to her “Hall of Heroes,” where her son and Beyers and four other fallen service members from the area are honored.

“I want them to know that our freedom comes at a very high price,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to forget about Nick. But I don’t want anybody to forget about any of them.”

Her work has drawn accolades from around the region. Idaho Rep. Russ Fulcher visited the Post Falls facility during Congress’ August recess and tweeted about the experience.

“The resource she has created for our veterans is very impressive. The volunteer-run operation has a strong sense of community, with many of the volunteers being veterans or family members who have also lost loved ones while serving our country,” he said in a statement. “Theresa is most definitely deserving of this award and recognition. During one of the most difficult times in her life, she made the choice to continue her son’s legacy of service to our country, by caring for our veterans and their families.”

Wrong house

A couple of months before that July day in 2011, Hart had moved into a new home. Her contact information hadn’t been updated in the military files, and a government official and a chaplain waited hours for her at the old address to deliver their terrible news.

A neighbor finally told them the family had moved. Then Theresa Hart got a call from her ex-husband, Wayne Newby.

He “asked me if Nathan, my other son, was home,” Hart said. “I said, ‘Yeah. He’s right here.’ Wayne said, ‘Don’t let him leave. I’ll be right there.’ ”

Wayne Newby drove up and he was followed by the government official and the chaplain.

“That’s how we found out that Nick had been killed that day,” Hart said.

Nathan Newby, who turned 24 last week,

had just spoken with Nick Newby a few days earlier.

“He was one of my best friends,” Nathan Newby said. “As we got older, we went fishing all the time together.”

The younger Newby graduated from the University of Idaho and has applied to attend medical school. He eventually wants to serve as a Navy doctor.

But in his spare time, Nathan Newby works with his mother as a volunteer.

“Every morning, she gets up and every morning she goes there,” Newby said of his mother. “The phone is just ringing off the hook all the time. It’s awesome seeing her build this up. It’s been incredible.”

Asked what his late brother would think of Newby-ginnings, the younger brother said he would be “extremely proud.”

“He would be astonished by what she has been able to accomplish,” Nathan said of his mother. “To turn something so terrible into something amazing, he would just be so proud of her.”