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A look at the recently opened outdoor dining pavilion at Verna’s Flight Line Restaurant in Millville.

Vineland Daily Journal

MILLVILLE – The yellow construction permit serves as a gift tag, tacked to the beam of a newly erected pavilion at Verna’s Flight Line Restaurant at the Millville Executive Airport.

The community rallied to raise the roof over a 30-by-40-foot outdoor dining area as a thank you to restaurant owner Verna Herman.

“She just has such a generous heart,” said Pastor Melissa Doyle-Waid, who oversaw the fundraising. “She’s willing to help anybody but she never asks for help.”

The pavilion started out as a fanciful idea during a dinner conversation, said Doyle-Waid, who met Herman while serving as pastor of First United Methodist Church on Second Street. Now 11 years into their friendship, she said, she and Herman view each other as “chosen family.”

When Doyle-Waid was transferred to Sea Isle City, she continued to meet up with Herman and knew the toll coronavirus took on her friend’s 30-year business.

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But, Herman’s focus on the bottom line didn’t deter her mission to be a lifeline to her patrons, many who are senior citizens and families with small children.

She pivoted to deliveries to keep customers safe at home and well fed with homemade favorites, including chicken pot pie. A network of volunteers helped keep costs down making the doorstep drop-offs.

Then there was sign of hope.

“Everybody was all excited back in July when the restaurants were supposed to be able to open up,” Doyle-Waid said, even at 25 percent capacity, it was a step forward.

While talking about it, Doyle-Waid said her husband was looking around the restaurant and spotted an opportunity.

“We could do a pavilion here,” Travis Waid said, looking at the area just outside the restaurant’s side entrance.

By the time the Waids got home that night, they learned Gov. Phil Murphy rescinded the reopening plan and knew it was a devastating blow to Herman.

In that moment, they launched the pavilion plan.

“Let’s just do it,” Doyle-Waid said, enlisting the help of Herman’s daughter, Tara Gonzalez, who works alongside her mother.

Working in secret, they collected donations.

“We weren’t going to tell (Verna) until we raised all the money,” said Doyle-Waid, noting the goal was $2,500. “We had that in a couple days.”

During a dinner at the shore, Doyle-Waid handed Herman a rendering of “Verna’s Flight Line Future Outdoor Dining Pavilion,” telling her, “You are getting that.”

The surprise moved Herman to happy tears.

Construction commenced in September. Volunteers poured concrete, nailed trusses into place, and landscaped the construction site.

“People just worked hard and got it together,” Doyle-Waid said.

Raising twice their goal, the community tweaked their original concept with some upgrades.

Verna Herman, owner of Verna’s Flight Line Restaurant, speaks about family, friends and the community who helped with the construction of the outdoor pavilion in Millville on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (Photo: Adam Monacelli/The Daily Journal)

“And now it’s this because people in this community have been touched by Verna,” Doyle-Waid said. “Verna doesn’t run a restaurant, she runs a place where people come to feel cared for and she happens to feed them while they’re here.”

The pavilion opened last week. Diners ate their Flight Line specials seated at a homespun assortment of furniture relocated from patios and repurposed from utility wire spools.

“Melissa has always been there for me and my family, I’m not surprised that she would do that for me,” Herman said.

As the pavilion was under construction, Murphy did authorize indoor dining to resume at 25 percent capacity.

“All we can have in here is four tables,” Herman said, nodding toward her indoor dining room. The outdoor 70-seat area is popular with patrons and autumn weather is cooperating.

“People just love it, and people know it was a gift,” Herman said. “I am overwhelmed by people’s kindness and generosity, I’m humbled by it; it’s God’s pavilion.”

Deborah M. Marko is a senior reporter with The Daily Journal. Got a story idea? Call 856-563-5256. Follow on Twitter: @dmarko_dj Instagram: deb.marko.dj Help support local journalism with a The Daily Journal subscription.

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