BOLINGBROOK – What started as a little painting and patching turned into a new kitchen for a former Marine by volunteers who want to help veterans.
Harold Baggech in his younger days did this kind of work himself.
“I used to work with heavy machinery,” said Baggech, who likes to talk about his former jobs and the work he did.
But at age 80, even home improvement tasks can be tough for Harold now.
In fact, he and wife, Charlene, were preparing for a trip to Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital when a series of events fell into place that led to a new kitchen at their Bolingbrook home. The project is scheduled for completion Saturday.
Charlene said she was talking with the executive director at the Will County Veterans Assistance Commission about some help for the Hines visit when, “I just happened to bring up the fact that, would there be anyone willing to paint and do some home repair. She said, well, there is this group that is looking to help out veterans.”
That group is the Veterans Support Group from the ExxonMobil Refinery in Channahon Township.
Helping one another
The refinery opened in 1972 with a large number of veterans in its workforce – many from the Vietnam War.
They like to help out fellow veterans, said Tim Rice, a former Marine who served in Vietnam.
“There is a new appreciation for veterans that was not happening in the 1970s,” Rice said Saturday while taking a break from the kitchen project at the Baggech home.
He recalled stories of soldiers being spat at and called names when they returned to the United States at a time when anti-Vietnam War feelings ran high. That didn’t happen to Rice. But remembering it motivates him.
Rice is an ExxonMobil retiree who volunteers with the Veterans Support Group.
“It’s helping our family – our brotherhood and sisterhood,” he said. “I’m glad to be able to help.”
First sweat equity project
Not everyone in the Veterans Support Group is a veteran. The group consists of employees, retirees and even contractors who work at the refinery.
The group has done fundraising and donations in previous years. The kitchen project at the Baggech home is its first sweat equity project.
Also helping out on the kitchen project are some volunteers from the Joliet Area Young Professionals, affiliated with the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Altogether, they’re about 40 strong in Bolingbrook. And, they appear to be doing good work, said Charlene and Harold.
“There was no horsing around,” Charlene said. “They really know what to do.”
“I was surprised at how many people showed up,” Harold said. “They had so many people, they were stepping on each other.”
Not quite. Being refinery workers, they do have some manual labor know-how.
Finding people who know how to do this kind of work is no problem, said Art Aldaco, the job’s project manager. He checked out the Baggech home after getting notice from the Will County Veterans Assistance Commission.
“It was going to be a little painting and some light woodwork,” Aldaco said.
But when he saw the condition of the couple’s kitchen, damaged by a plumbing leak, Aldaco went back to his group and suggested a kitchen remodeling.
A ‘Brush With Kindness’
Getting the appliances and cabinets needed for the job was more than what the ExxonMobil Veterans Support Group could typically handle. But, Aldaco said, the group teamed up with Will County Habitat for Humanity for what that agency calls a “Brush With Kindness” project.
Habitat for Humanity usually builds new houses. “Brush With Kindness” is a home repair program.
Will County Habitat for Humanity has supplied the cabinets, appliances and flooring needed to build the new kitchen.
Harold, who served during the Korean War era, and Charlene have lived in their Bolingbrook home since 1974. They like the neighborhood and want to stay.
Charlene, still a bit stunned at what her simple request for a little help painting the walls has grown into, said, “It’s a miracle.”