COVO Board of Directors
Our Board of Directors consists of community leaders, chosen through a competitive process. Our board meets monthly and contributes time, energy and expertise throughout the year. Many of our board members bring personal military experience to bear, with a unique understanding of the military to veteran transition.
Dennis Merrill, President
Brigadier General Dennis Merrill, USA (Ret) has over 35 years of public and military service. He served over 32 years with the Oregon Army National Guard, retiring in 2004. He is a veteran of Operation Joint Guard (1997), in Bosnia-Herzegovina where he served as a brigade task force commander.
Additionally, he served as the United States Marshal for the District of Oregon from 2002 to 2010. Prior to his appointment as the United States Marshal, He served for 27 years with the Portland Police Bureau, retiring as a Captain in 2002.
BG Merrill’s volunteer and community service endeavors include: past co-coordinator and driver for DAV transportation program in Bend; past area coordinator for the Employer Support of Guard and Reserve; current Advisory Board member of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program; President of the Oregon State Council of Chapters of the Military Officers Association of America; and Communications Chair/Board member of the Central Oregon Military Officers Association of America. His professional associations include Life member of the MOAA, VFW and Oregon Peace Officers Association.
He is a native Oregonian. He graduated from Tigard High School and Portland State University. He currently resides with his wife Carol in Powell Butte.
Mike Brock, Vice President
Mike graduated from Lakeview High School, Lakeview, OR in 1962, and from Southern Oregon College in 1967. He joined the Marine Corps, and served as an infantry Platoon Commander in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. He served as a Company Commander in 3 different commands. From Infantry, he transitioned to intelligence where he finished out his service as a Colonel in 1994.
Mike then went on to become an instructor for Naval Junior ROTC at Mountain View High School, Bend, OR, retiring in 2005. He has also been a volunteer for Caring for Troops, Honor Flight, COVO, NJROTC, Toys for Tots, and other community groups. He married Dianne Fieguth 48 years ago.
They have two children. Daughter Lindsey works for Consumer Cellar. Son Casey is a Major in the Marine Corps.
Len DeGroot, Secretary
Len was born and raised near Green Bay, Wisconsin and developed a lifelong love of the Packers.
He spent 11 years in the U.S. Navy, educated in electronics, and served as a Sonar Technician. He then added to this education with an Associate’s Degree in Psychology, a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and a Master’s in Finance.
He had a varied career, which included Gremlin Industries, General Dynamics, Convair, and IVAC Corporation. Len settled into his last 22 years before retirement with Hughes Network Systems as Manager of Installations for the Western US and Canada.
He connected with COVO at the 2011 Stand-down, and has continued his interest in helping Vets through the Outreach program since then. Len also volunteers with Mosaic Medical and the ELKS. In his spare time, he enjoys fishing (sometimes catching), hiking with his wife and dog (Annie), and RV-ing, enjoying life in Oregon
Casey Baxter, Director
Casey was born and raised in Oregon, attending high school in Bend, Oregon, where he served as the first rifle team commander for Mt. View High School’s NJROTC. After high school, Casey enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a Helicopter Crew Chief.
After the Marines, Casey attended the University of Houston where he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Business Management. While in college, he served as the President of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.
After graduating, he attended the University Of Denver Sturm College Of Law. He was a member of the national moot court trial team and worked for a clinic where he represented low-income clients.
Since law school, Casey obtained his real estate and financial advising licenses, and worked as a Morgan Stanley Smith Barney financial advisor. Soon thereafter, Casey worked for over three years as a Deputy District Attorney in Deschutes County. There, he served as both President and Treasurer of the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Association where he helped to lead efforts to obtain the Veteran’s Treatment Court and develop the Veteran’s Intervention Strategy to appropriately address the combat related conditions of veterans in Central Oregon. Casey also took numerous misdemeanor and felony cases to trial, including successfully co-chairing a murder trial in 2013.
Casey then founded a law firm in the Old Mill District where he is now working as a criminal defense, family law and estate planning attorney. He enjoys the many outdoor activities that Central Oregon has to offer, including snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking and boating.
Fred Coelyn, Director
Fred moved to Bend Oregon in March 2014 when he retired from the Veterans Administration after eighteen years of employment. He moved to Bend with his wife Joanne and dog Jazzy to be with family and enjoy the quality life style in the high desert.
Fred worked for the Veterans Administration for nineteen years, both in Los Angeles, California and Portland Oregon. He was Assistant Vocational and Rehabilitation Officer. He managed 34 professional employees who acquired services for Veterans with physical and psychological disabilities. The task was to get Veterans training or independent living services so these Veterans could enjoy a better quality of life.
Prior to his service with the Veterans Administration, he worked in sales management positions for major corporations in sales and marketing for twenty-five years. Companies like Panasonic, Epson, Thermador Waste King, Polaroid and Talley Industries. Fred has a BS degree in Business Management from New Hampshire College and a MS degree in Counseling from California State University.
Fred served four years in the United States Air Force that included a tour in Vietnam. He is a disabled Vietnam Veteran and understands the needs of other fellow Veterans.
Originally from Boston, he is a major fan of the Red Sox’s and New England Patriots.
Jim Cunningham, Director
Jim has over 37 years of public and military service with the U.S. Air Force and Oregon Air National Guard, retiring in 2006. He is a veteran of Vietnam as well as Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. Prior to commanding the Oregon Air National Guard, General Cunningham was the Oregon Air National Guard Director of Operations. In this capacity he oversaw state operations and training for seven Air Guard units, coordinated Air Guard involvement in state emergency operations, and managed military air space management issues. General Cunningham is a retired Captain with United Airlines. Jim serves on the Advisory Board of Oregon Youth Challenge and Board of Directors of the Rosenbaum Foundation. Past board experience includes, Sisters Habitat for Humanity, Sisters Folk Festival, Deschutes County Search and Rescue Aviation Advisor, and Aviation Advisor for Economic Development for Central Oregon.
The General is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles (BA) and Webster University (MA). He resides with his wife Dana in Sisters Oregon.
Peter Gallagher, Director
Pete arrived in Bend permanently in 2016. Prior to that, he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 40 years. From 1975 to the present, Pete has pursued a career as a financial advisor to individual investors.
Pete was born and raised in Malden, MA. He attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, graduating in 1968 with a BA in History. Following graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in the U.S. Army. He served almost seven years, resigning as a captain in 1975. Pete is a veteran of Vietnam, where he commanded two infantry companies in combat. He is a proud member of the Tropic Lightning Association (25th Infantry Division), the Americal Division Veterans’ Association, and the U.S. Army Ranger Association.
As a true son of New England, he is a devoted follower of the World Champion Boston Red Sox, as well as the New England Patriots. His hockey allegiance has shifted to the San Jose Sharks after more than 20 years as a season ticket holder.
Pete was drawn to COVO’s mission by the large number of veterans he encountered in Central Oregon and stories he heard about those in less fortunate circumstances. He previously served on the board of two non-profit organizations in California for more than 20 years. During his spare time, Pete enjoys discovering the natural beauty of his new home state aboard his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and riding with the Central Oregon Harley Owners Group.
He has been married to the former Kathy McRobbie for 50 years. They have two married children and a granddaughter living in California.
Kristin Gyford, Director
Kristin has a master’s degree in Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the state of Oregon. Kristin has worked in a variety of community mental health settings for the past 16 years including intensive outpatient programs, recidivism programs (Jail Diversion/Adult Drug Court) and child welfare. Kristin’s special interests include working with veterans, multicultural issues, and trauma. She is bicultural and fluent in Spanish.
She served in the United States Air Force as a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Specialist providing operational support information for Force Support Squadrons that provided mission sustaining combat support and community services to Airmen and their families. She was stationed at Luke Air Force Base, a training base of the Air Education Training Command, training pilots in the F-16 Fighting Falcon. During her time serving she was awarded a Humanitarian Medal for saving the life of another airman. This was when she first recognized her passion in desire in helping others.
Molly Taroli, Director
Molly was born and raised in Oregon and has lived in Central Oregon since 2006. Molly has been working in HealthCare for over 20 years and has always been involved in the communities she has lived. Molly joined PacificSource in 2012 and in her current position as the Community Development Coordinator for Central Oregon and Northern Klamath Counties since 2016. Molly has always been eager to be part of her community and develop ways to bring communities together. In 2014, Molly created the Community Resource Huddle that has successfully connected over 500 individuals in our community who work to serve those in need. Molly was awarded the Service Award and Community Outreach Award since she has been with PacificSource. Molly is heavily involved in the community and sits on many different committees/boards. Molly has been involved with Non-Emergency Transportation, Homeless Leadership Coalition, Aging and Disabilities Resource Connection, Family Access Network, Public Transportation Advisory (ODOT), Homeless Management Information System, Continuum of Care Committee and more. Molly makes it a point to connect but she does have a very special interest that she has had since a child. Molly, who is a proud American has always honored and supported our Veterans. Molly shares, “I am beyond words, to express my gratitude to those who have fought and served for this beautiful County”. Molly has been connected to COVO since 2013 and is proud to serve on the Board of Directors with COVO.
Elizabeth (Betsy) Leighty-Johnson, Director
Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth (Betsy) Leighty-Johnson, USA (Ret) served 24 years with the Oregon Army National Guard, retiring as the Chief of the Intelligence Branch in 1998. She served as the National Guard’s first female support battalion commander in an infantry brigade in the 141 Support Battalion, 41st Infantry Brigade in Portland, OR. During her career, she also took on additional missions including as an assistant inspector general (IG), special assignments to Eighth US Army (EUSA) South Korea, and a tour to I Corps, Fort Lewis, WA.
Additionally, she served as the Director of the Oregon National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program, opened and directed the first juvenile boot camp for the Oregon Youth Authority, and worked as a special education teacher at Bend High School and Sisters Elementary School.
Betsy was born and raised in Woodburn, Oregon, graduating from Woodburn High School as both her parents had. She earned an BA from Eastern Oregon State University, an MAT from Willamette University, an ME from Lewis and Clark College, and graduated with distinction with a PhD in Human Services from Capella University.
Les Bivens, Director
Les is originally from North Carolina where he graduated from Pfeiffer University with a BA in history. After graduation Les joined the US Navy and became an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) officer. He was assigned to EOD Group 2 at Fort Story, VA. and deployed aboard the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt, CVA-42 for nine months as the EOD officer.
After the tour aboard CVA-42, Les was recruited to serve as one of 3 EOD officers assigned to the Naval Undersea Center, Kaneohe, Hawaii to develop a new type of swimmer defense system using dolphins for Viet Nam. He was deployed to Viet Nam as the Asst. Officer-in- Charge, then Officer-in-Charge of a 14-man EOD detachment in Cam Ranh Bay, VN to provide swimmer defense and EOD services to ships and pier facilities in the area. After a successful OPEVAL in VN the system was redeployed to Guam where Les was OIC during turn over to an operational unit of Naval Special Warfare.
Les resigned from active duty and took a civil service job with the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center, Hawaii where he continued to work as a program manager for research and development of Marine Mammal Systems in support of Naval missions. From Hawaii, Les moved to San Diego where he became the director of the Navy’s Marine Mammal program and met his wife, Junko. He served 28 years as a Navy Officer and Navy Civil servant before retiring.
After retirement Les moved to Colorado where he was a volunteer with the Upper San Juan Search and Rescue Team (SAR), directing and participating in mountain search and rescue operations. During this time he became a Wildness EMT for SAR, and served 8 years on the Archuleta County SAR Board of Directors, as President of the Board for 3 years. He was recognized as the Colorado Emergency Management Association Volunteer of the year in 2015 for his service with SAR.
Les and his wife, Junko moved to Bend in 2016.
JW Terry, Executive Director
JW was born and raised in Ashtabula, Ohio He joined the U.S. Navy in 1963 and served for over 30 years. He retired as a Chief of Naval Operations appointed Command Master Chief.
After retiring from the navy, he was on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, and Office Manager for Maricopa County Home Health Care Department.
In 2000 he started teaching as an instructor for the Navy’s NJROTC program in LaVerne, California and came to Bend as an instructor at Mountain View High School in 2001.
He is currently the State and Bend Chapter President of the Band of Brother’s, Commander of Post 4 American Legion, Life Member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 820. He enjoys family time, golf and his 3 grandchildren, three great grandsons.