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'You really saved us': Veteran-owned lawn business' stolen equipment replaced by Soldier's Wish, community effort

Tulsa World - 6/23/2018

Cody Nichols still had a lot of yards to get to.

But after push-mowing an acre-and-a-half to start the day, his Friday afternoon, by comparison, promised to be almost a breeze.

"I can't believe what just happened," said Nichols, a Marine Corps veteran, as he looked over the gleaming red Toro commercial riding mower that had just been given to him Friday.

"We're going to survive. I really thought our company was going to die."

On Friday afternoon at Bloss Equipment in Tulsa, Soldier's Wish representatives greeted Nichols, president of Our Troops Services, with a big surprise: All of the company's lawn equipment that had been recently stolen was being replaced with new equipment.

Our Troops is a veteran-owned small business that hires veterans who need work for landscaping, fencing and construction jobs.

The loss of several thousand dollars worth of lawn equipment was a blow that likely would've doomed the effort.

The theft occurred early May 20 after the culprit cut the lock to a gate. When Nichols arrived later to start the day, their equipment "was all gone. Stolen," he said.

Tony Heineman, Soldier's Wish advancement and development officer, led the effort to help Nichols and Our Troops Services. He said he found out about the theft the day after it occurred and immediately got on the phone.

"People came out of the woodwork wanting to help," he said. "We were able to raise the money to replace everything."

He estimated the value of the new equipment at around $15,000.

Even then, Friday couldn't have come too soon.

"I talked to Cody a couple of days ago," Heineman said. "I asked, 'How are you doing?' He said, 'Just barely hanging in.'"

Nichols considers it his mission to help fellow veterans hang in.

"We'd like to become like the HOW Foundation for veterans," he said of Our Troops, adding that he currently has four employees, all veterans.

Nichols tried to get by with a couple of donated push mowers but has fallen behind.

"We'd started the year strong, adding new customers," he said. "We were barely keeping up as it was. Then this happened."

Soldier's Wish is a Tulsa-based nonprofit that carries out its mission nationwide, working to meet the needs of military veterans.

Mark Ochsenbein, volunteer director for Soldier's Wish, was on hand for the surprise.

"We found out about Cody's plight," he said. "We're talking about his livelihood. And he's got veterans who work for him who depend on this."

"We want to get you back on your feet," Ochsenbein told Nichols.

"You really saved us. Thank you so much," Nichols told everyone on hand.

"You want to scream, 'I'm going to Disneyland,'" he added of how he was feeling after the news. "But I've got yards to mow."

 
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