Less than one month after the unexpected passing of Haverhill veterans’ advocate John E. Ratka, those close to the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center are touting the lasting impact he made on the city.
During Monday night’s Open Mic Show, Ratka’s friend and colleague Ralph Basiliere said the former Naval officer made Haverhill a destination for veterans in need in the Merrimack Valley and beyond.
“Because of John Ratka had the team he led, Haverhill has become a hub for veterans’ housing. When guys are not on a winning streak, let’s say, Haverhill has become a place to come—and that’s because of John Ratka,” Basiliere said.
In Ratka’s absence, the team at the Outreach Center affectionate dubbed VNOC is forging ahead with plans to renovate the former Gerson’s furniture store on Washington Street into 44 apartments for veterans and families. Marine Jason Gilbert has taken over as interim executive director of the agency.
Under Ratka’s watch, Veterans Northeast Outreach Center received more than $2 million in federal money in 2016 as part of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. He has also shepherded the building program at group’s main campus at the former St. Rita’s Church. Last year, he was presented with the Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement from the Department of Veteran Affairs.
A resident of Salem, N.H. at the time of his Jan. 12 death, Ratka left behind a wife and two sons. Haverhill City Council Vice President Thomas J. Sullivan is among those pushing to name the renovated Gerson building in Ratka’s memory once complete.