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Media contact: Eileen Sigler, 541.780.5137


Veteran pleased with role in more appreciative welcome home

Categories: Email Newsletter, Housing, Veterans, Volunteers
Author: Judy Hunt, enews editor
Date: Tuesday, October 25 2011
Photo of man outside of house with flag dispayed in front.

When a job estimate turned into a volunteer opportunity to provide affordable housing for veteran families, Randy Lodge and the partners at Ehlers Construction didn’t back down.

When Randy Lodge joined St. Vincent de Paul’s Housing Advisory Board he couldn’t imagine it taking more than a couple of hours each month to keep tabs on properties and projects. But the role grew on him. In September he marked the end of year one with about 200 volunteer hours logged and more to come.

Randy is serving as Project Manager for the Vets' Housing Project, renovating two long-vacant properties that St. Vincent de Paul purchased in late summer from Lane County. Along with very affordable prices came a request from City Manager Jon Ruiz that both houses be renovated for veterans who too often return from war only find themselves fighting again for peace of mind and personal and financial stability.

County and City staff will see victory at 9 a.m. on Veterans Day when the house on Garfield Street becomes available to a National Guard veteran and family. The rent will be affordable for at least two years and special services will be available so the veteran can concentrate on other concerns: getting reacquainted with family, reintegrating into the community, accessing V.A. benefits, and finding work or enrolling in school.

The agreement prompted a monumental volunteer effort at both properties, first to clear hillside vegetation gone wild and then to rehabilitate the structures after years of neglect. For Randy Lodge and his employer, Ehlers Construction, what had been a routine job estimate became an invitation to manage the project on a volunteer basis.

“I said sure, I’d love to be involved,” Randy recalled.

With City staff already on board, the volunteer network extended its feelers and drew in EWEB, the Homebuilders Association, and the Rotary, as well as family members and neighbors. The cadre has grown to include providers of materials and professional labor, student groups from the University of Oregon and Northwest Christian University, and more family and friends.

Much of the activity has taken place on weekends, but even a quiet weekday brings progress as retirees John Toensing and Virgil Heidecker fortify a second-story wraparound deck while installer Bill Vaughan and his assistant Scott Stianson measure for the floor covering donated by Imperial Floors.

During a break the talk turns to veterans’ issues as John and Randy compare notes about their own military experience, recalling places, weaponry and battles of the Vietnam War with astonishing clarity considering the decades that have passed.

“It sticks in your mind when you live it,” said John, 65.

“That stuff is emblazoned,” added Randy, 62.

He joined the Marines in 1967, trained for five months, and served 13 months as a field warehouseman with the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines.  “When you were in Vietnam you did what they told you, and there weren’t many warehouses,” he noted. He saw plenty of action, much of it through the windows of choppers, and is fortunate to have escaped war-related trauma. He has friends who weren't so lucky and still can't speak of their service.

After a single tour Randy’s occupational specialty was no longer needed. He returned to Oregon by way of airports where uniformed soldiers were spat upon and called, “Baby killer.”

“The thing about it is, we came back to a whole different sentiment,” he said, referring to the gratitude embodied in the weeks of hard work invested by the veteran-house volunteers.

“I enjoy the fact that now people are supportive of veterans and doing things to help, especially for the National Guard.”

Whereas most military personnel return from deployment to their bases, established health-care systems, and assigned jobs, National Guard soldiers return to their hometowns, said Dan Temple, an SVdP case manager specializing in services to veterans and their families. National Guard veterans have no assurance of employment, and no support system for determining what benefits they have earned and how to access them.

Dan will help provide that support for the first occupants of the veteran houses.

Following his discharge Randy Lodge attended the University of Oregon on the G.I. bill, meanwhile observing that friends with master’s degrees were pumping gas. After two years he traded his studies for an entry-level job in the family business, Ehlers Construction: Scrapping houses or, in lay terms, picking up scraps of sheetrock and associated material. With time he was promoted to stocker (hauling the materials inside), hod carrier, and texture man, to name a few, until the mid-1980’s when he joined management with emphasis on his own brand of “shoestring marketing.”

He called Ehlers a family-oriented business that has been gracious in granting his time to the veteran houses. He credits “the partners,” Don Gilbert, Kathy Gleason, Max Hansen and Jason Martin.

Randy is community-minded as well, having coached or officiated for youth sports for more than 30 years, maintained kid-friendly homes that welcomed the many friends of his stepchildren, and participated in more food drives and Whiteaker Thanksgiving Dinners than he can count.

He is most appreciative of a few people whose dedication to the veteran houses has matched his own: City Manager Jon Ruiz and wife Barbara, EWEB General Manager Roger Gray (“the biggest driving force behind the whole thing”) and wife Susan, Property Manager Heather Hannah Buch, SVdP’s Rebecca Larson, and his stepson James Abernathy.

The project typifies the reasons Randy joined the Housing Advisory Board in the first place.

“I believe in what St. Vincent de Paul does and its caring for people and the community,” he said. “I was attracted because it does so much to help, and its not a mega-corporation or conglomerate. It provides affordable housing.

“My hope for this house is that it will provide a comfortable existence for veterans, and the opportunity to re-enter the workforce, retrain or get back into school. My hope is that it will let them know how much the people of this community appreciate their service.”