Tribune Print Share Text

Adventures in retirement

Habitat for Humanity volunteer helps with home deconstruction

Created date

June 23rd, 2014
a man holding a hammer at a construction site

Don Gaddy and his wife Joyce had two considerations in retirement. They wanted to keep busy and help others.

The couple fulfilled both criteria when they sold their home in Duncanville, a Dallas suburb, and hit the road in their RV.

“We traveled around the country for four and a half years with Mission America Placement Service (MAPS), an Assemblies of God ministry,” says Don, a retired chief engineer for Penrod Drilling Company. “We built churches for small congregations who could afford to buy the materials but couldn’t pay for the labor.”

Don’s interest in construction dates back to his teenage years.

“When I was 14 or 15, my parents bought a two-story home in Tulsa, Okla.,” says Don. “The upstairs wasn’t complete, but my dad was handy. He hired a retired carpenter to show us how to build one dormer window, and then my dad and I built two more dormer windows. We finished the rest of the house ourselves, including the plumbing and electrical.”

Putting down roots

As Don and Joyce began to wrap up their volunteer service with MAPS, they returned to the North Texas area to look at retirement communities, including Highland Springs, an Erickson Living community that was under construction at the time.

“We liked the plans for Highland Springs, so we put down our $1,000 deposit to join the priority list,” says Don. “Meanwhile, my sister and her husband, Sandra and Dan Wagner, had joined the priority list at Trace in Houston. Joyce and Sandra are good friends, and they got their heads together and decided we should all live at Eagle’s Trace.”

Don and Joyce transferred their priority status from Highland Springs to Eagle’s Trace and settled into a one-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath, Griffin-style apartment in 2006.

A month after they moved in, Don called the Northwest Harris County chapter of Habitat for Humanity, asking if they needed volunteers.

“I have to have something to do,” says Don. “It’s not in my nature to sit around. Working with Habitat for Humanity allows me to volunteer and help others at the same time.”

Deconstruction with a purpose

For three and a half years, Don worked in construction, building new homes for families in need.

“Our chapter of Habitat for Humanity kept getting calls to deconstruct homes that were either going to be torn down or renovated,” says Don. “So three years ago, we formed a deconstruction crew. I’ve been working with that crew ever since.”

Deconstruction is the hand demolition of structures in order to reuse and recycle materials from that structure.

“We salvage just about everything—copper wiring, hardwood floors, windows, doors,” says Don. “Most of it is sold at ReStore, the Northwest Harris County Habitat for Humanity resale shop.”

Don says moving to the deconstruction crew was an easy decision. 

“My dad used to tell me I could tear up more stuff with a six-inch crescent than he could fix with a full set of snap-on tools,” he says. “That stuck with me, I guess.”

Always busy

Don volunteers three days a week—Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays—with Habitat for Humanity. He was the organization’s volunteer of the month for September 2013.

“Don is a great asset to our team of dedicated volunteers,” says John McEwen, general contractor for Habitat for Humanity’s Northwest Harris County deconstruction division.

When Don’s not at a job site, he can be found in the woodshop at Eagle’s Trace.

“Woodworking is my other hobby,” he says. “I work on several projects throughout the year, including furniture repair for other residents and toys for underprivileged children during the holidays.”

And although Don calls himself “the senior citizen of the senior citizens” who work alongside him on the deconstruction crew, he says he has no plans to slow down.

“Volunteering gives me meaning and helps others in the process,” says Don. “The way I see it, it’s a win-win for everyone.”