Jeanne and Roy Wilson’s Sunny Skies
Jeanne Wilson sits on an overstuffed brown couch near her husband, Roy, and plays with a large golden retriever as a young German shepherd awaits its turn for affection. Surrounding them are beloved photos of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The paint on the walls reflects the sunny attitude of the retired couple as a clock on the wall above the television chimes the hour with a song.
The family photos, however, are some of the precious few owned by the couple; water damage means the photos are unable to be removed from the frames in which they sit. The wall clock came close to ruin by submersion.
Roy Wilson and his wife, Jeanne, were two people affected by the floods that occurred in March 2019 from rain combined with fast snow melt. The couple’s home in the Green Acres area of Bellevue was soaked, and the Wilsons lost 40 years’ worth of possessions. They lived with family for a couple of months before finding a new house in Old Towne Bellevue.
The couple sacrificed even more to acquire a new residence – the down payment on the home at 2002 Main St. cost them all their savings; they began paying a mortgage for the first time in five years.
Roy retired in the spring of 2011 from Douglas County as a sergeant; he previously suffered from a heart attack as a result of a fight with an inmate and has continued heart issues. Jeanne uses a cane and retired in November 2020 from Bucky’s convenience stores to help protect Roy’s health, and hers. They also live with two grandchildren, Caitlyn and Dylan.
When Mitch Strong, community outreach coordinator at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, reached out to the couple, the former officer was unsure why someone would come knocking on the door.
“OK, am I going to run into a scam,” Roy asked himself, continuing jovially, “I haven’t been able to put handcuffs on a scam artist in a long time.” Mitch, however, showed Roy his Habitat Omaha ID badge as the couple sat on the porch during a warm fall day. Strong explained who he was and that he was there because Habitat wanted to help the couple as part of the organization’s Sept. 23 Rock the Block event in Bellevue. One home maintenance project stood out. The couple’s house appeared to be painted in about three shades of gray on the exterior, and the interior also featured rainy shades. “I knew a paint job had to be done, and I was trying to figure out how,” said Roy, who knew the task would require money the couple didn’t necessarily have in the budget and manpower that Roy could use help with. Mitch gained the couple’s trust by talking to them.
“They were sitting on the porch,” Mitch said. “The first thing that I said, as I was walking up to his house was, ‘don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything.’ He did have a no solicitation sign on the house. I explained who I was and that we wanted to help him for free.”
Andrew Eberhardt, maintenance program specialist with Rock the Block partner OPPD, took the lead on Roy’s project, which included a full paint job and tree maintenance. He said Roy originally still wondered why someone was coming to do hours of work for free, but after Andrew talked to him about the project on Friday morning, Roy warmed up. “I was impressed by how open he was to having that many people on his property, using his stuff, using his tools,” Andrew said. “To trust total strangers … anyone can slap paint on a home, that doesn’t mean it’s going to look right. The fact that he trusted Habitat was fantastic.
An exterior paint job was one part of the service provided. Wright Tree Service came on Friday, Sept. 22, and trimmed an ash tree Roy knew had issues and was thinking of removing. The couple happily watched as approximately 20 volunteers from Habitat Omaha and OPPD appeared at 8 a.m., and, by noon, transformed the home by painting it a buttery yellow color. These volunteers were some of more than 100 who assisted 18 families by painting homes, installing storm doors, mowing yards, and cleaning gutters along Second and Main streets in Bellevue.
“I was totally amazed by the job they did in that amount of time,” Roy said.
Roy and Jeanne gained a much-needed paint job, a healthy tree and a new perspective on what Habitat Omaha can do.
“I’ve been to the retail store, but I never knew Habitat did this,” Roy said. Although Mitch insisted Roy relax while the volunteers worked, this Vietnam veteran could not resist helping, ending the day hanging above the garage a sign reading “Nebraska Strong.”
The couple encouraged other homeowners approached about participating in Rock the Block to “Go for it!”.