American fighter and bomber pilots relied on Virgil Poole’s intelligence gathering to help them fly safely to their targets during World War 2. Decades later, a local community is rallying to support the veteran who is now battling major health and financial issues.
Poole, 97, is an original member of the Tuskegee Airmen. The pioneer group of African-American pilots and service personnel broke color barriers and became one of the most highly-decorated units in US aviation history.
Nearly seventy-five years ago, Poole served in an intelligence capacity and held debriefings with airmen returning from combat missions over North Africa and Europe. According to the Chicago DODO Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Poole is one of eight original members still living in the Chicago area.
“To know someone who is so historical, someone who helped save our country, someone who led our country to victory and if it wasn’t for him, who knows where we would be right now?” said family friend Juquita Johnson.
Poole, however, has developed dementia in recent years. And if health problems were not enough, Poole and his wife, Haweda, are now losing their home in south suburban Glenwood due to foreclosure.
“The family thought that he was paying the bills like he did every month on time and unfortunately when they received the foreclosure notice it was a little bit beyond too late,” Johnson said.
Virgil and Haweda’s two car loans were also eating-up nearly half of the couple’s income, which made day-to-day living difficult.
“We had to cut back, you know, there’s nothing we can do about it because I didn’t want to have a repo on me and make my credit bad,” said Haweda Poole.
Johnson said she believes the Pooles were victims of financial exploitation as a result of Haweda signing a car loan with a 21.38% interest rate for a new Honda Accord in 2015.
“There is no way as a business person I would allow myself and allow a senior, a super senior, to sign a $600 to $700 car note payment on a car that’s definitely worth maybe half of that,” Johnson said.
Johnson is now helping the Pooles pay some of their smaller bills. The couple is also receiving food donations from United Methodist Church in Hazel Crest.
“They’ve been very helpful. They really have,” said Haweda Poole.
Older consumers are increasingly at risk for predatory lending, according to senior advocates at Oak Park-based AgeOptions.
“I think what we see a lot is just people who are being sold financial services that they don’t really need,” said aging and disability rights coordinator Jon Hofacker. “It could involve or have excessive fees or just things that really aren’t in their best interest.”
In fact, consumers who self-identified as age 62 and older filed 22,648 mortgage-related complaints and 1,618 vehicle loan and lease complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau between 2011 and 2017.
A spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling said seniors can still try to renegotiate their loans, depending on their credit rating.
“If you are in a situation where you have a loan you can’t afford, you need to look at options for refinancing,” said Bruce McClary of the NFCC. “If your loan balance is low, lenders may work with you.”
McClary urges seniors work with non-profit housing and credit counsellors before making large financial decisions.
Meanwhile, it is not clear where the Pooles will be living once they vacate their house in Glenwood.
“Nothing concrete or promising at the moment,” Johnson wrote to NBC 5 Investigates. “Just leads to complete applications for housing.
Johnson has set up a GoFundMe page to help the Pooles.
Chicago “DODO” Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen president Ken Rapier said the group has raised more than $1,200 for Virgil and his wife. The group is also planning to hold a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the Pooles.
“When we find out about something like this, we go in to action as quick as we can,” Rapier said.
The local chapter raises awareness for the Tuskegee Airmen through speaking engagements. It also offers scholarships and sponsors youth aviation programs.