Volunteers from Home Depot, nonprofit fix up North Versailles veteran's home
For Mary Ellen Ziegler, it is a happy ending to a bittersweet story.
“They have changed my life,” Ziegler, 67, said as volunteers from Home Depot and Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh fixed up her home in the West Wilmerding area of North Versailles.
“Now I will have people here,” she said. “My family can come and not worry about how it looks because it looks beautiful.”
Ziegler is a veteran who was a stenographer for the Fifth Army from 1966-68 at Fort Sheridan near Chicago.
“She's really a great lady,” said Jim Graff, assistant merchandising sales manager at Home Depot in North Versailles. “Her social worker put in for her and Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh chose her.”
Volunteers installed a new washer, dryer, stove and fans, flooring, a railing on the steps that lead down to a hilly street and even a new flower bed at the front of the house.
“Do you plan to do that little bit at both ends?” North Versailles Home Depot garden employee Robert Fetterolf asked a volunteer as they laid bricks down as borders for the flower bed.
“I just raised it up because of the slope, so there wasn't any erosion at that end,” Fetterolf said later before laying down reddish-brown mulch around flowers from the North Versailles outlet.
“We probably have done over 600 homes,” Graff said. “We've had a total of 35 people, different people, at different times.”
Ziegler's home is one of 11 that was being finished Tuesday across Allegheny County. Another is in Braddock, and the rest are in Pittsburgh and suburbs north and west of the city.
“We work with seniors, people with disabilities and veterans whose housing conditions really deteriorated,” Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh deputy director Alan Sisco said.
“We're doing 25 between July and mid-November,” said Steve Hellner-Burris, the nonprofit's executive director. “This is one of 140 (this year). In 31 of those, veterans live; in 25, widows of veterans.”
“They moved really fast,” Department of Veterans Affairs social worker Brooke Chaney said during a brief ceremony Tuesday involving Rebuilding Together officials and volunteers from Home Depot stores in North Versailles and Altoona.
“We would not be able to do this without you,” Hellner-Burris told the volunteers.
“My heart is so full of humility and gratefulness,” Ziegler said, surrounded by the volunteers as well as one of two daughters, Angie Hollinger.
“She knows I am going to have a safe house,” Ziegler said.
Chaney made multiple applications for aid for Ziegler, who grew up in upstate New York but met and married a man from Chalfant while in the service.
Ziegler had been widowed twice when schoolmate Allen Coleman came back into her life 15 years ago.
“All of a sudden it clicked,” Ziegler recalled. “We lived in a small apartment I had before and eventually it got too small.”
Coleman was a carpenter and worked with Vangura in North Huntingdon.
“After a couple years we looked for a rent-to-own,” Ziegler said. “Twelve years ago in May we got this house rent-to-own and, let me assure you, it was bad.”
Unfortunately, the fix-up the couple hoped to do 12 years ago never happened. Allen Coleman died of cancer in the summer of 2003. Ziegler said Irwin Bank (now S&T) helped her close on the house the day after Coleman died.
But not much else happened until October 2014 when Ziegler fell and broke the sacrum at the base of her spine and Christmastime when she fell and broke her wrist.
“I was hospitalized for two weeks at the Veterans Affairs hospital (in Pittsburgh),” Ziegler said. “When I came home, the VA assigned me a social worker (Chaney). If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have asked for help.”
The Home Depot volunteers gave her an Army flag and promised to erect a pole to fly it, and an apron signed by many of their number.
“You are certainly rebuilding a home,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. “But you are also rebuilding something for the entire community.”
The county executive has seen Rebuilding Together's efforts close up, including three homes earlier this year in Hazelwood, part of his old 11th County Council District.
“On behalf of North Versailles we want to thank Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh and Home Depot for all the work they are doing to enrich the lives of our veterans,” township manager Patricia Logo said.
“It was a pleasure for all of the volunteers,” said Bob Beechy, district manager for nine Home Depot stores, including the one in North Versailles.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.