Since Iraq veteran Rusty Lininger started Source One Serenity in 2016, the nonprofit has been helping veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and disabilities through fly fishing.
Douglas County veterans, including Garry Gerlach of Winston and Terry Weakley of Riddle, both said their experience tying flies and catching fish with Source One Serenity has helped them relieve stress and find a sense of community.
Weakley returned to Douglas County after he was shot during the Vietnam War, working in the timber industry for 30 years and seeking treatment for his PTSD from the Roseburg VA’s PTSD program. He said he had been drinking way too much before he met Rusty Lininger at the VA and got involved with the nonprofit over a year ago, and that Source One Serenity’s fly tying classes have given him a positive outlet, keeping him away from alcohol.
“It was something to keep me occupied, and it relieves stress,” Weakley said. “I really enjoy it, and it’s something to make sure I’m not just at home couching up, that’s where the tendency to drink comes in.” Through fly tying a few times a week and volunteering with other local organizations, including Vietnam Veterans of America, Weakley said he keeps a busy schedule that helps him stay sober.
Now, he said, he’s been sober for more than 500 days and is looking forward to participating in more of Source One Serenity’s classes this summer.
“I can be proud I don’t drink anymore,” he added.
Weakley also said he enjoys the camaraderie of the fly tying classes.
“We all have fishing stories to tell, and we don’t talk about the service much,” Weakley said. He added he enjoys meeting people through the classes, where he helps other veterans learn how to tie flies.
For Gerlach, a Vietnam veteran who is disabled, fly fishing has become a way to enjoy life.
“It’s about getting out in the environment and becoming close to nature, and getting your mind away from the military part of your life,” Gerlach said. “A lot of us have medical problems, and this is a way to forget about that stuff and just relax and enjoy ourselves.”
Last summer, Gerlach joined the Liningers and about seven other veterans for Source One Serenity’s week-long fly fishing school at Lemolo Lake.
“Quite a few of us caught fish, but it wasn’t just about the fishing,” Gerlach said. “You’re stepping back into nature and escaping from the city life and hustle and bustle of all that, and it’s just relaxing.”
He remembers arriving at Lemolo and stepping out of the car to find the place nice and quiet, with no sounds of traffic.
He said all he had to bring was his clothes, and the nonprofit supplied everything else at no cost to the veterans; including fly fishing gear, food and lodging at lake-front cabins.
“I absolutely, thoroughly enjoyed it,” Gerlach said. “Rusty is probably one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”
A couple days after the retreat, Gerlach was sitting at home when a thought crossed his mind and inspired him to write a poem:
“I hear the call of the river and lake this morning/ Although I cannot answer it/ A peacefulness is upon me/ Knowing the serenity of time well spent/ In a place which cleanses the heart and soul.”
Rusty Lininger said Lemolo Lake is a beautiful place to teach someone how to fly fish.
“You may know nothing about fishing, but you can show up and learn everything you need to know about the water, the fish species and tying your own flies and knots,” he said.
Elena Lininger, Rusty Lininger’s wife, said the group of veterans who went on the Lemolo trip still stay in touch.
“It’s a community,” she said.
This year, two fly fishing schools are scheduled for June 4 through 10 and July 9 through 15. Source One Serenity will also continue to offer fly tying classes, including one at 6 p.m. May 30 at the Umpqua Valley Arts Association.
Elena Lininger said Source One Serenity is not about raising awareness about veterans suffering from PTSD and thoughts of suicide, it’s about providing a solution.
Rusty Lininger, who grew up living in Myrtle Point and visiting the North Umpqua River, had been dealing with depression and PTSD after returning from Iraq. In 2012, he attempted suicide. But while living in Germany, he learned how to fly fish from a Gulf War veteran.
Fly fishing soon became a sort of sanctuary for him, a safe way to focus on a present moment of peace instead of past experiences of trauma.
When he moved to Roseburg in 2016, he decided to share that sanctuary with other veterans.
Rusty Lininger said many veterans receive individual unemployability status as part of the VA’s disability compensation program, but without the ability to work, he said veterans often lose their sense of purpose.
“They feel they have no purpose, no reason to get up and be active in the community,” Rusty Lininger said. “You’ve taken a warrior, which throughout history is a high class of service in a community, and now he’s just under a rock somewhere.”
Source One Serenity recently partnered with local whitewater rafting guide Paul Eckel of Roseburg, who takes veterans on rafting trips.
“We have like minds to reach veterans and bring them out from under that rock of isolation and bring them into an activity where they can process things they never talk about, and find a sense of adventure where it’s been lost,” Eckel said.
Eckel and the Liningers plan to take veterans on a combined rafting and fly fishing trip this summer at the Gold Hill Whitewater Center.
Eckel served 15 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said he experiences a feeling of safety while maneuvering through the rapids of the North Umpqua River.
“For me, it’s a safe place,” Eckel said. “The moment I cross Swiftwater Park and Deadline Falls, a peace comes over me and when I’m moving through the water. I’m one with whatever came before me out there.”
He added whitewater rafting creates a shared experience and an opportunity for teamwork between the rafters, while the sound of the flowing water is pure and speaks to each person differently.
“It speaks healing and life into you, if you give it enough of a chance,” Eckel said.
Rusty Lininger said in addition to the classes and excursions, Source One Serenity offers 24/7 peer support for veterans. He said he’s there for his fellow veterans whenever they want to go fly fishing spontaneously, if they just need to talk or if they want help with housework.
Source One Serenity also connects veterans to other river-related field trips, including one to Soda Springs Reservoir in September to help biologists catch fish using electricity in order to study them.
Gerlach said he also got to go on a tour of the Soda Springs Dam and the fish ladder system, and was impressed by the way the project helps steelhead migrate between the North Umpqua River and the Pacific Ocean.
Gerlach, an OSU master gardener, is helping the nonprofit create a social enterprise involving composting with worms.
Vermicomposting, or composting with worm casting manure, helps add nutrients to soil so plants can grow faster and with a better quality, according to Gerlach.
Rusty Lininger said Source One Serenity hopes to hire veterans to pick up fruit and vegetable waste from local grocery stores and work with the worms to create and sell the compost. He said the goal is to make the vermicomposting enterprise into a sustainable source of revenue for the nonprofit.
Elena Lininger added this idea is still in the research and testing phase while Source One Serenity searches for a facility.
Elena Lininger said the Source One Serenity programs are free of charge for the veterans, and are funded through grants, as well as donations from local residents and businesses.
Scott Kelley, co-owner of Paul O’Brien Winery in Roseburg, is one of the business owners who has helped raise funds for Source One Serenity through the annual Get Wet for a Vet golf tournament and gala dinner in Portland.
Kelley said his winery focuses its donation efforts on children, outdoor events and veterans, so he decided to donate wines for the auction in order to benefit Source One Serenity.
Elena Lininger said Source One Serenity received $2,500 from Get Wet for a Vet, so Rusty Lininger carved a wine barrel to give to the winery as a thank you gift.
“I’m a fly fisherman, so this is an extremely cool way to give back; I’m just amazed and so impressed with what they’re doing to get veterans out on the water,” Kelley said.