Madeline Creason stands at the front door of her modest Excelsior Springs home, arms crossed, watching rotted roof shingles and rusty nails tumble to the ground.
The 84-year-old Navy veteran is silent as workers clambering on the roof overhead remove decades-old material. Along with a cold spring shower the remains of Creason’s damaged roof pour down, creating a haphazard pile on the ground in front of a 42-year-old maple tree.
“I planted it as a sapling when I moved in here in 1971,” said Creason, pointing to the majestic tree just beginning to sprout tiny buds.
Clad in a dark sweatshirt, jeans and black running shoes piped in bright pink, Creason turns to the trio of women gathered in the musty living room pungent with the aroma of cats that once lived there.
“Well, that’s that,” she said. “Last time the roof got fixed it was me up there, climbing around.”
Inside the house, which hasn’t had running water since 2010, a group of volunteers finishes installing a shiny new kitchen faucet.
“Madeline,” called out Jerry Sears, one of the Homes for Heroes volunteers that have descended on Creason’s 1953 ranch for a daylong rehabilitation project, “we have water. Come look at this!”
Creason slowly makes her way through clutter to inspect Sears’ work in the kitchen where a hot plate substitutes for a stove and a vintage refrigerator covered in rust contains minimal food.
She grips the faucet’s handles and turns it on and off several times, a slight smile curling her lips and crinkling her blue eyes.
“Guess I won’t have to bring water up here anymore,” said Creason, who for three years pumped water from a well in the front yard and transported it to the 1,200-square-feet house for cooking and bathing.
Sears is visibly moved.
“God gives us talents,” he said. “We’ve got to use them. That’s one of the reasons I volunteer.”
Creason is the beneficiary of Sears’ Homes for Heroes program, a collaboration between Sears Holding and Rebuilding Together, a national nonprofit with 192 affiliates nationwide that help renovate homes for the low-income, elderly and those with disabilities.
Saturday’s critical repairs were made by Rebuilding Together Clay County and more than 20 volunteers — including a large youth contingency — from Liberty’s North Star United Methodist Church and Be the Church, a combination of Lawson congregations.
Clay McQuerry, executive director of Rebuilding Together Clay County, said Heroes at Home is a key initiative for the local nonprofit.
“Rebuilding Together is a safe and healthy housing organization that believes community starts at home,” said McQuerry, who founded the Clay County affiliate in 2001. “For 12 years we’ve strived to complete essential home repairs and safety modifications for families, and our relationship with Heroes at Home allows us to assist military families and veterans like Madeline.”
This is the fourth Heroes at Home grant McQuerry has received.
“Thanks to the Sears – Heroes at Home grant along with volunteer labor, we are able to improve lives at no cost to the service recipients,” said McQuerry.
Outside Creason’s house volunteers are busy hauling wheelbarrows of refuse into a large trash bin. A blue toilet circa 1970 sits abandoned — a sparkly white one has replaced it in the bathroom — and men mill about wielding hammers and drills.
Down the gently sloping hill of the front yard a couple from North Star sets up lunch on a card table and McQuerry proudly surveys the activity.
“It is so gratifying, for people who are willing to pitch in and help others,” he said. “Madeline gave so willingly to protect us, it’s a joy to give back.”
Phillip Christensen, one of the crew leaders for North Star, said he and a few fellow church volunteers became aware of Creason’s situation last fall from McQuerry.
“At first she didn’t want us to do anything,” he said. “She had to develop trust in us. When we finally got in to help her with an outlet, we saw the extent of repairs that needed to be made.”
Creason’s house fell into disrepair over the years and she fell on hard times. As she became unable to keep up by performing maintenance — both from a physical and economic perspective — the house that her brother originally built began a slow decline.
McQuerry said Heroes at Home is a way to give back to individuals who served the country. In Creason’s case, she was one of the Navy’s few female aviation electronics technicians during the Korean War.
“Madeline is quite a lady, very independent,” he said. “What an honor that we can help her regain dignity with new faucets, roof, water heater, toilet and some floor repairs.”
Men climb down from the roof and the North Star youth group kids filling up the trash bin pause for a lunch break. North Star lead pastor Jim Hoffman asks for everyone to bow heads and offers a blessing.
Afterward he said one of the church’s primary missions is community outreach.
“The people here today bring that mission to life,” he said.
Creason settles onto a stool, a paper plate with a turkey sandwich and two homemade cookies balanced on her knee.
“This is really something,” she said, “that these people care enough. That’s really something.”