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Longtime volunteer gets Habitat house of his own

April 11, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - For more than 10 years, James Clarke was content building houses for other people.

Now, he has one of his own.

"I finally made it. I'm 55, and I made it," Clarke said Sunday after receiving keys to a green-shuttered Habitat for Humanity home on Liberty Street.

Clarke, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer since 1994, will benefit from the sweat of his efforts later this month when he and his daughter, Shanese, 11, move in to their new home.

Dozens of people jammed the three-bedroom rancher near the intersection of Cleveland Avenue in the neighborhood where John Barr learned about giving back.

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Barr, who sponsored the project, choked back his emotions as he helped welcome Clarke home.

"There's so many friends in this house, it's just incredible. I just can't believe it," Barr said.

According to Sherry Brown Cooper, executive director of Habit for Humanity in Washington County, Barr and his wife, Teresa, are the first individuals to sponsor a home in the area.

Cooper said the house, which was built in memory of Barr's grandparents, was the first constructed for a volunteer.

"The man's one of the most caring and giving (people) in this whole community," Cooper said of Barr.

Barr said the house is an echo of the love his grandparents showed people who lived in the neighborhood. Frank and Jane Barr - whom their grandson still calls "Pap" and "Granny" - lived just a few doors away from Clarke's new house.

"If you stopped, you didn't leave without eating, and if you did, you were in trouble," Barr said of his grandmother and grandfather, who died 10 years apart in 1980 and 1990.

Barr said his grandparents were active members of the Lutheran church housed in a small white chapel next door, where St. Catherine's Eastern Orthodox Church now holds services. They never locked their doors or turned anyone away, he said.

Barr, the owner of Ellsworth Electric Inc., said he learned his business sense from Pap, who sold corn in the neighborhood when Barr was young. Pap, he said, always gave people 14 ears for the price of 12.

Barr said building a house was a way to pay homage to his grandparents.

"Just a lot of memories of Liberty Street and growing up here as a young man," Barr said.

Neat stacks of pasta, cookies and pudding filled the cabinets of Clarke's new home, and neon stickers in the window proclaimed successful inspections.

Clarke told volunteers he was humbled by their efforts. He said since he first started volunteering, he's been "habitized and hypnotized," and he vowed his work with Habitat for Humanity would continue.

"I pray that this program will go on for a long, long time to help others in the future, and don't worry, I'll be there working. Don't worry about that," Clarke said.

Cooper said the celebration of the project had a "sweeter touch" because of Clarke and Barr. She said another volunteer suggested the group build a home for Clarke and his daughter.

"He would have just continued working on other people's houses and would have never said anything to us about his own need," Cooper said.

The house, friends and family members said, was a fitting tribute to Pap and Granny.

"They would be pleased, very much so," Barr said. "They were very humble and never (sought) out gratification or recognition for what they did."

Barr said he only wished the project, which took more than a year, could have been completed sooner. He promised Shanese in August she would move in by Christmas.

"Merry Christmas, Shanese," Barr said quietly as the Northern Middle School sixth-grader flitted around the yard, showing her new home off to friends.

According to Clarke, Shanese's mother died two years ago.

Family memories and love built the house where Clarke and his daughter now will live, Barr family members said.

Jean Schlotterbeck, of Smithsburg, and her sisters said their parents, Frank and Jane, would have been proud of their grandson.

"I'm sure Dad and Mom are smiling down from heaven and thinking ... what a wonderful tribute it is," Schlotterbeck said.

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