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Cold-weather friends lend a helping hand with Habitat for Humanity

A ROW OF extension ladders are lined up along the side of Jack Gillis’ house in progress on East 16th Street as Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bill Sherbon takes a pause from working on the house siding. Several Habitat construction volunteers have been helping Gillis with his house project during a break in building the Habitat house next door.
Kathy Ursprung photo

A ROW OF extension ladders are lined up along the side of Jack Gillis’ house in progress on East 16th Street as Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bill Sherbon takes a pause from working on the house siding. Several Habitat construction volunteers have been helping Gillis with his house project during a break in building the Habitat house next door. Kathy Ursprung photo

— The temperature is well below freezing and snow is still fresh on the ground as Jack Gillis and his helpers head over to the Habitat for Humanity house on East 16th Street for a cup of tea and a break from cold outdoor construction work.

Gillis lives around the corner from the Habitat house, but is building a big house right next door. He started the four-level dwelling when he was 75. He’s 83 now and the structure is coming together in his time.

“I built most of it myself,” he said, holding his tea and standing at the mouth of the behemoth garage he designed to shelter a big boat-building project that can be seen just beyond the garage across the backyard at his current home on Thompson St. Right now it houses a variety of salvaged building materials and cabinetry.

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John Adams works the indoor portion of a top story tag team while Bill Sherbon works outside on Jack Gillis’ house. Kathy Ursprung photos

Walking through the construction, Gillis enjoys sharing the bargains he has ranged all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond to acquire: dozens of oak cabinets from Lewis-McChord military base, salvaged siding and beams, a three-and-a-half-foot door (“Easier for appliances to go through,” he said) and a high-end kitchen range, among other things.

It’s not the first home Gillis has built. He constructed an A-frame at the coast in the 1960s.

“But that was a lot different construction method,” he said.

Gillis is retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after working at both Bonneville and John Day dams. He admits to being “mechanical” and clearly enjoys building things.

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HABITAT VOLUNTEERS, from left, Ron Fullmer and Walt Notter, homeowner Jack Gillis, and Habitat volunteer Dave Neitling line up behind a work station where house siding is measured and cut.

So do the half-dozen or so men who usually work next door at the Habitat for Humanity house, also currently under construction. When they had to take a break from Habitat house construction over the past few weeks, instead of sitting home and enjoying some cocoa by the fire, they decided to volunteer their services to help Gillis.

“We didn’t realize it was going to be quite this big a job,” Dave Neitling admitted, but they have soldiered on, working on the siding since Dec. 11.

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JACK GILLIS’ house in progress was started when Gillis was 75. He’s now 83. Kathy Ursprung photo

They started out by priming 1,500 square feet of siding. Among the helpers are Neitling, Walt Notter, John Adams, Bull Sherbon and Ron Fullmer. They are now finishing up under the eaves, where a row of a half-dozen extension ladders speaks to the group effort. They’re on the finishing stages of the siding work, fitting in the small pieces high up at the top of the exterior walls, under the eaves.

But this neighborly effort isn’t a one-way street. Gillis has volunteered his big lift truck to help with work on the Habitat house.

“While we’re helping him, he’s helping us,” Notter said.

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