Korean War veteran and his wife get help from volunteers

Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RICH ALLEN - Volunteers from the U.S. Navy and Home Depot helped build Jack and Sandy Lowe a new deck at their Troutdale home.Sandy and Jack Lowe were coming home on one of those hot summer nights when they decided to stop at the Skyline Pub in Troutdale for a nice cold beer.

A man walked by the couple and happened to notice Jack wearing his Korean War veteran’s hat.

Steve Abels, a Troutdale Kiwanis Club member, said it was a polite fluke that he stopped, and shook Jack’s hand, thanking him for his service.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Sandy, 72, and Jack, 83, were shocked and thankful at the outpouring of community support. The couple has been married 47 years.Then he asked the 83-year-old veteran how life was going.

It couldn’t have been a better time to ask.

Jack’s health had slipped in June after he went in for a knee replacement surgery and doctors found he had more serious complications in his intestines, requiring him to stay longer at the hospital.

He spent a better half of the summer at a care center, having to listen to the 4th of July fireworks from bed.

When Jack came home, Sandy said she took him to therapy everyday, with little time or energy to think about anything else.

“Things got set aside,” she said.

Sandy also suffers from multiple sclerosis.

The 72-year-old has trouble walking.

“I keep trying to push on, so I can take care of my husband,” she said.

When Abels asked the couple if they had any other problems, Sandy said, “the yard.” Her 18-year-old grandson helps out as much as he can she said, but even still things had fallen into disrepair.

The next thing the couple knew, more than 50 volunteers from five organizations were at their doorstep at 7:30 a.m. sharp Saturday, Aug. 16.

Cars piled into the neighborhood, and trucks hauled in tools, supplies and a 40-foot trash bin, later filled to the brim with debris in the Lowe’s driveway.

Volunteers included Troutdale’s Kiwanis Club members and other local Kiwanis clubs, reserves from the Navy Officers Candidate’s School and members of the Navy Construction Battalion (“Seabees”) as well as missionaries from a Latter-day Saints church in Vancouver. Friends, family members and children also tagged along to help out.

Home Depot sent two experienced workers involved with the store’s veteran’s assistance program.

Troutdale City Councilor Rich Allen also was there.

Shock and awe

When the whole crew showed up, Sandy was dumbfounded.

“I offered to fix lunch, but I didn’t know there were going to be 47 people here,” she said.

Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RICH ALLEN - Young women from a Latter-day Saints church group sand and prime an aging wall in the Lowes living room.Abels told her not to worry about it, they had it covered.

At lunchtime, a former marine and Lions Club member and his father grilled hamburgers for the entire crew.

Eager to help, Sandy served water and iced tea to all the strangers, new friends, who chipped in to help her and Jack.

Abels said worldwide the Kiwanis club is typically focused on serving children, but every local club is different. As for the Troutdale Kiwanis, he said they help out wherever they see a need in the community.

Abels took Jack and Sandy’s story back to the club’s board, and from there got in touch with a few people, including a program he heard about at Home Depot that assists veterans with home improvements. After that, “It just multiplied,” Abels said.

Jack’s story

Jack served as an Army medic during the Korean War from 1951 to 1952, and was stationed in Osaka.

Aside from his recent health troubles, the retired long-haul trucker also needs hearing aids. Sandy said the couple was unable to get them from the Portland VA Medical Center because Jack doesn’t have documentation that he suffered hearing loss during the war.

She said, “I tried so many times to get him in for his knees, vision and hearing, but I gave up.”

Abels referred Jack to the Gresham Senior Center where he had an appointment to fill out more paperwork for hearing aids, and is still waiting to hear back.

The transformation

Sandy offered tours to show the work volunteers had accomplished in one day. People were still stopping by the house to finish odd jobs.

First was a wall in the living room, once covered in burlap wallpaper and 20 years worth of kitty scratches.

“It’s been like that for four years,” Sandy said.

On Saturday, eight young women from the church group sanded the wall down and primed it. Next week someone will come by and paint it a fresh coat of “country cream.”

In the backyard, Navy men helped build a new deck, so Jack no longer has to step down to a slab of concrete. They also replaced old, rotted deck boards, and built a step down to the grass.

Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RICH ALLEN - A volunteer works hard in the Lowe's backyard.Trees and hedges were trimmed and shaped. A huge mess of blackberry bushes was removed. Garden beds, dead and rotted, were taken out, and the soil was re-tilled.

In the front yard, the church volunteers edged the front lawn with bricks that weren’t being used in the Lowe’s backyard.

The couple had quite a bit of extra lumber volunteers used to put up portions of a new fence, while Home Depot covered a majority of other expenses and supplies. The Navy guys brought the tools.

Volunteers cleared brush from along side of the house, which was overgrown with weeds, bushes and dead flowers.

Dirty patios were cleaned with a pressure washer. Weed killer was sprayed on the fresh-cut lawn and gravel driveway, and mulch was spread around Sandy’s stone lawn ornaments.

Abels said workers accomplished in four hours what would have taken one person eight hours a day for a whole month to do.

“It’s pretty amazing what a community can do if we all work together,” he said, “Separate from the politics and all the nonsense.”

“It’s just wonderful,” Sandy said, teary-eyed as she walked through her neat and tidy backyard. “You don’t hear of people doing stuff like this anymore. We never asked for any of this.”

Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RICH ALLEN - Jack shakes hands with Navy Seabees at the end of a long day of work. At the end of the day, men from the Navy presented Jack with a Navy flag and an American flag, which is now raised and flying on the side of the Lowe’s house.

Jack, who is walking with a cane, sat in the living room while his wife graciously told their story. He still hasn’t received his hearing aids, but he smiled and chimed in from time to time.

Later when I asked him about the whole ordeal, he said, “It was really a surprise. It came at just the right time because we were in need of it.”

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