Brave Hearts Estate In Pellston Gives Peace To Troubled Veterans
By Mike Kent
It took a motorcycle and a truck to do what 19 years as a Marine, and 18 tours in some of the hottest war zones in the world could never do. It left the body of Laszlo Szalay of Brighton in a mangled mess. The damage was massive. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, he had a brain injury that left him with seizures, depressed, and unable to sleep.
Laszlo was near death. “I didn’t feel calm,” Szalay says. “I felt pain, I saw darkness. I was terrified.” Then, Szalay says he experienced a miracle. “I saw an angel that day.” The angel gave him a choice, “Do you want to stay here or go. God still has things he wants you to do.” It was a conscious decision and not one that was easy to make. “I’m glad I made the choice to stay.”
For eight years Szalay saw the angel regularly, sometimes on a daily basis. The accident triggered PTSD and brought back horrible war memories. The angel gave him comfort and calm.
That peace was eventually reflected in a place he found in northern Michigan called Brave Hearts Estate.
A Place For Angels
The Estate is spread out on a 238-acre ranch that can house up to 38 people in the main house and nearby cabins. The home is open to all veterans with at least a 30-percent disability or those who have seen some combat experience. Run by Operation Injured Soldiers, Brave Hearts Estate is a respite for veterans and their families. They can enjoy a weekend of fishing, swimming, kayaking, skiing, or sightseeing. Or they can choose just to hang out at the ranch and talk to other veterans.
It was in those quiet talks with other veterans where Szalay found the peace he experienced with his guardian angel. “I was in a bad way,” he says. “We stayed up and talked all night. It’s a healing place. Some people go to a church and feel at ease and calm. That’s here – love, healing, comfort, and respect.” Laszlo gives a lot of credit to the two caretakers of the Estate, Paula and Mike Brown. “They were very gracious. It’s like they’ve known you forever. The atmosphere is so calm. That comes from the love that Paula and Mike have for veterans. You can’t fake it. These folks have no agenda except to make us feel better.”
Paula Brown says they mainly allow veterans to get together and talk about their experiences. She says there may be plenty of food and laughter but there is a lot of serious work that takes place on those northern Michigan getaways. “The main purpose is to bring veterans together to have someone to talk to that knows what they’ve been through,” says Paula Brown. “It makes it easy to talk and share and heal.”
When not dealing with a nationwide pandemic, Brave Hearts Estate organizes a variety of activities including fishing, hunting, women’s retreats, and a Color Run. While COVID-19 may have curtailed some of those activities, the Estate is still open yearlong. During the winter months, they have guests Friday through Sunday, and during the warmer weather the weekends take place from Thursday through Sunday. There is no cost to the veterans or their families.
Brave Hearts Estate receives no federal funding but rather is supported through fundraising, grants, and support from Foundations and corporate donations. Brown says they also see a lot of support from the community. People will volunteer their time for staffing events or even just bake cookies and pies for the bigger functions.
Paula Brown is convinced since the Estate opened in 2015 they are giving veterans help that lasts longer than just a weekend. “It gives them the freedom to know they can talk to someone that knows what they’re going through. I’m not alone in my thoughts and my fears.” That is exactly what Laszlo experienced. His first night at Brave Hearts Estate allowed Szalay his first full night of sleep in years. “It was comforting there.” He says it was the same comfort he experienced whenever he felt the presence of his guardian angel. “I saw her there, she wanted me to be there.”
Get more information at: www.InjuredSoldiers.org.