Home Depot salutes veteran in need with home makeover

LONG NECK – An elderly veteran’s quaint waterfront home on Long Neck experienced a home makeover Friday thanks to the Home Depot, some Legion auxiliary power and a small army of volunteers.

Exterior/interior upgrades and landscaping were tasks at hand at the Bay City manufactured home of 82-year-old Air Force veteran Jerry Gagnon and his wife Marilyn.

Eight days before Veterans Day, several dozen Home Depot employees from several stores in the region and other volunteers, including Legion Post/Auxiliary Unit 28 members provided the manpower, womanpower and support for Friday’s day-long makeover.

“This is our Celebration of Service Month. It actually runs through the middle of October through Veterans Day,” said Robert Silvagni, Pro Department manager for Home Depot store 1604 in Lewes. “As a corporation we try to reach out to local communities whose veterans or active service members are in need. We try to do what we can for them. Last year we did a project a couple of miles south of here for a veteran who needed a ramp. We did that.”

“This is just a really good thing,” Lewes Home Depot store manager Ed Wade said to the huddle gathering of volunteers.

Tina Washington, a part-time Lewes Home Depot employee and member of the Legion Unit 28 Auxiliary, was the connection.

“They asked me to identify a veteran that might need some work. I did,” said Ms. Washington. “He is a disabled veteran. They are in their 80s. They just want to stay in their house.”

“Originally it was just going to be a small project, but we turned it into a district-wide project when we realized we could really impact their style of living here and quality of life,” said Mr. Silvagni. “They are both in their 80s. They just need help. They needed some things done to keep their home livable so that this a place that they can stay here in their retirement.”

The makeover list: window and slider door replacement, new interior rugs for the living room, dining room and multi-seasonal room, minor electrical work (exterior lights, bathroom fixtures), range hood, new screening for a small gazebo, installation of accent lighting, new benches, new fencing in the back of the home, tree and shrub cutting and trimming, some exterior painting and a good power-washing of the home.

An energy-saving interior upgrade was a French door connecting the seasonal room and the main part of the home.

“They say that this room gets very cold,” said Mr. Silvagni. “All they had across there was a thick curtain. Since this is an un-insulated room all their heat is coming right out the front.”

Total cost for materials is somewhere in the $16,000 ballpark. Grant funding comes from the Home Depot Foundation.  “This is our veteran we’re paying a little bit back to, for what he has done,” said Mr. Silvagni.

“We are both feeling very unworthy of this magnificent thing that is happening,” said Ms. Gagnon.

“This is just fabulous,” said Ms. Washington.

Mr. Gagnon’s military service was cut short of his enlistment plans when doctors discovered a medical roadblock.

“I had a bad ear. They put me in a hospital in Geneva, N.Y.  … Sampson Air Force Base. They said they saw something in that ear. They talked to me and asked me if I’d like to stay. I said I’d like to stay and I asked if they had something for me. They told me, ‘You can’t go up in the air. You can’t go under the water. We’re going to have to let you go,’” Mr. Gagnon said. “They gave me an honorable discharge. That was the end of my service.”

The Gagnon couple moved to coastal Sussex County 11 years ago from the hustle bustle of a New York City suburb. Together they have 10 children from previous marriages.

“I worked for a church for 30 years as office manager,” said Ms. Gagnon. “We talked about retiring. Jerry was from Wilmington originally. I said I don’t care where we go as long it is near the water. We found this place and liked it. It was hard to leave because my children are all up that way. Jerry’s children are in Wilmington, the Carolinas. But we love it down here. The people are so great. Our neighbors are the best; wonderful helpers if anything goes wrong.”

But money is rather tight in their monthly so major home improvements were out of the question.

And Mr. Gagnon has had a series of health problems. He has difficulty speaking due to partial vocal cord paralysis from chest surgery.

“Jerry has some health issues. He fell and broke his neck. He had an aneurysm,” said Ms. Gagnon. “But he compensates. He drives an elderly man in our development to his doctor appointments, things like that. He makes himself useful. He doesn’t just sit.”

To feed volunteers’ hunger, Auxiliary Unit 28 provided coffee, donuts and breakfast sandwiches and subs for lunch.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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