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HARRISON – Clare County Habitat for Humanity began its work locally in 1991, an effort which sought to combine the compassion of a community with the sweat equity provided by volunteers and prospective home owners. The organization funds its efforts through donations from private citizens, organizations/foundations and, of course, the all-important fundraisers.
Over the years, the local group has accomplished some wonderful things, enabling people to clear the hurdles to home ownership and home repair, all while maintaining their sense of pride as their own efforts are an integral part of the project.
Still other projects are accomplished for people who are simply unable to put in the physical work needed to finish the job.
This year, Habitat for Humanity has declared 2019 the Year of the Veteran. Thus, local Habitat groups across the country have sought out military veterans who could use a little help with critical home repairs. Michigan has one of the largest veteran populations in the nation, and in Clare County, the Habitat veterans effort began last October when it was brought to light that the home of Robert L. Mester was in need of roof repair.
Robert and Manacca Mester made their home along the southernmost boundary of the county, on a property rich in natural beauty and the chatter of marsh/water birds. It also afforded Mr. Mester the space to grow a substantial garden, the bounty of which he took great joy in sharing with others. He served his nation from the summer of 1957 to October 1963 in the U.S. Army Company A, 94 Engineer Battalion, building roads and airstrips. He served in Korea, Germany, Africa and taught in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. In his civilian life he worked in the HVAC/refrigeration industry.
Carey Harris, executive director for Clare County Habitat for Humanity, said that after funding was secured through the donors: Habitat, Rep. Jason Wentworth, Forgotten Eagles of Michigan Chapter Three, Michigan Bikers Helping Veterans Inc., American Legion Clare/Farwell,and private/anonymous donors, the hurdle became finding a contractor who could take on the job. The Mesters had already replaced the upper story roof with a green metal one but finishing the lower wrap-around roof was simply beyond reach.
Unfortunately, Robert Mester was in poor health and passed away in January prior to seeing the project completed. Harris said she had promised Mr. Mester that the project would be completed. Thus, on what was a cool, sunny day full of promise, that work was continued Friday, May 3 by a crew from Integral Builders of Clare. That was the day members of the local Habitat organization and other invested community members dedicated the new roof in honor of Robert Mester. They included Terry and Diane Kunst of the Forgotten Eagles Chapter Three; Sandie Loomis, president; Sherry Coombs, director; Justin Cavanaugh, Habitat board/Chemical Bank-Harrison banking center manager; Lori Martin, vice-president; Carey Harris, executive director; Valerie Nielsen, treasurer; Jenna Gardner, Harrison Area Chamber of Commerce; and Karl Hauser, director of Clare County Veterans Services. Also present was Michael DeLaRosa, Habitat International Veterans Engagement Specialist, and Jenna Gardner, executive director of the Harrison Area Chamber of Commerce.
Lori Martin read out a tribute to Robert Mester as follows:
“We came out today to honor Robert Mester and Mrs. Mester for their service to our country. Habitat for Humanity recognized 2019 as the Year of the Veteran. In 2018 Clare County Habitat for Humanity decided we would look for a veteran family that needed assistance and see what we could do. Mrs. Mester found us and introduced us to her husband, Robert L. Mester, in October 2018, and that’s where our partnership began.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Mester passed away in January and didn’t get to see this project get off the ground. But he did have the peace of knowing it would be completed this year. He was pretty stressed about that and wanted to make sure his wife was taken care of. He had that peace because of many people.”
Martin went on to list all those who had helped, and specifically those in attendance. She noted that members of the Michigan Bikers Helping Veterans Inc. had wanted to attend but could not as they were doing an escort of a fallen Marine. Martin also called out the roofers from Integral Builders who continued to hammer away at the roof, thanking them individually by name.
“Mr. Mester is survived by his wife of 50 years, two daughters and four sons and many grandchildren and a great-grandchild,” Martin said. “He also is survived by his beloved Jack Russell terrier (and fishing buddy) Gabby, who stayed by his side throughout his illness.
“We are pleased to be able to put a roof on this home and are very thankful for the partners who aided in this project, and we thank Mr. Mester for his service, and all the veterans who have served for our freedom her in the United States of America and overseas.”
Mrs. Mester added her thanks to all those mentioned, and to all U.S. veterans.
Karl Hauser also commented, saying it was good to see all the organizations pulling together to get the finances straightened out and make it happen.
“It’s always a great thing when that can work,” he said.
“I would echo that,” said DeLaRosa. “We’re always happy to see people coming together to honor our veterans. It’s awesome what we can do together.”
“This is a great cause, near and dear to my heart,” Gardner said. “Mrs. Mester, I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m glad we could come out here and do this for you, and in honor of your husband.”
Terry Kunst, Forgotten Eagles Chapter Three president, and Diane Kunst, Chapter Three Allocations, also stood to honor Robert Mester. The Forgotten Eagles, founded in 2002, strives to ensure that service members missing in action are never forgotten, and also works to provide for the needs of veterans. Kunst said his chapter sponsors a couple fundraisers each year, the more well-known of them being the Ride Around Michigan which is foremost an effort to honor fallen soldiers and raise awareness of MIAs/POWs.
“We supply funds to veterans with critical needs,” Terry Kunst said. “We do a raffle each year and a Ride Around Michigan in August of each year: 23 counties in the course of two and a half days. In the past, half of the money raised by the Ride Around Michigan has gone to the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund and the other half has gone to a charity that supports veterans.”
He said those charities have included Puppy Paws service dog training in Farwell, Hopewell Ranch’s Project Solomon in Weidman for equine therapy, Ziggy’s Dogs, and more.
“That’s what we do,” he said. “I’m a veteran; I’m one of 20 million veterans living today. That’s 6 percent of our population, so we are a minority. The more telling thing is that each day, one-half of 1 percent of the men and women in our country are defending us. That’s the active military, and we thank them for their service and support. Without them we wouldn’t have this freedom that we have in this country today.”
Sandy Loomis extended a special thanks to Carey Harris, whose planning and coordination led all parties to being there that day.
“Thank you very much, Carey,” she said. “We couldn’t have done this without you. You’re the rock of this one.”
Mrs. Mester took the opportunity to have the last word, as she said “You do good work.”