Vietnam veteran gets help from Mennonites on roof repairs
by Jennifer Cohron
Jun 30, 2011 | 3112 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Vietnam veteran Richard Gilbert, stands in front of his home on Green Avenue in Cordova that received extensive damage in the April 27 tornadoes. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
Vietnam veteran Richard Gilbert, stands in front of his home on Green Avenue in Cordova that received extensive damage in the April 27 tornadoes. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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Volunteers from the Mennonite Disaster Service are in Cordova this week helping a resident whose home was damaged in the April 27 tornadoes.

Merlin Detweiler came down from North Carolina with his wife, daughter, brother, sister-in-law and five others on Sunday. The group of 10 are putting a new roof on the house on Green Avenue where Richard Gilbert has lived for 50 years.

Detweiler said the work has been slow because the roof has multiple layers of shingles to remove.

He hopes to have the job completed by the time the group heads home on Saturday. If not, MDS will dispatch another group of volunteers to the site.

Detweiler said Mennonites have developed a reputation for remaining in a disaster area as long as their neighbors are in need.

“Some people have said that the Mennonites stay the longest,” Detweiler said.

MDS, a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches, has set up a camp at New Victory Fellowship Church in Birmingham.

MDS has had 248 volunteers in the Birmingham area to date, and 229 of 230 jobs have been completed, according to its website.

Not all MDS volunteers are Mennonites. Detweiler’s brother, Dennis, attends a First Assembly of God in North Carolina and runs his own inter-denominational missions ministry called Joshua’s Army.

Merlin Detweiler said MDS primarily serves storm victims who are uninsured, underinsured, disabled or elderly.

He added that although Mennonites should not be mistaken for the Amish, their religious views likely influence their desire to volunteer.

“Mennonites are plain people. We tend to be farmers and things like that, so we are used to doing things to serve others,” Detweiler said.

Volunteer Derek Pfaff, a Christian who attends a Mennonite church in North Carolina, said he and the rest of the group are honored to be helping Gilbert because he is a Vietnam veteran.

Pfaff said Gilbert has also been serving the volunteers by bringing them water, dust masks and pillows so they don’t have to sit on the hot roof while they work.

“It’s obvious that he appreciates what we are doing for him,” Pfaff said.

Gilbert called the MDS volunteers “a blessing.”

He said the assistance he received from FEMA was not sufficient to pay a contractor to fix his roof and he could not do the work himself.

Gilbert had thought he might have to leave his home before MDS took on the responsibility of the project.

“I was studying all of my options, but I didn’t know I was going to do,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert was at home for both storms that struck Cordova on April 27.

The first knocked down a water oak tree in the front yard, disrupted his water service and caused minor roof damage.

The second brought down a sycamore tree, caused extensive damage to the home’s roof, blew out more than half of its windows and threw around much of the furniture inside.

Gilbert was sitting on his porch that Wednesday afternoon when he saw utility workers in the Long Memorial United Methodist Church parking lot across the street start running for the church.

He went inside himself and seconds later the storm was on top of his house as he sought shelter in a doorway.

“I just folded my arms, bowed my head and shut my eyes,” Gilbert said.

When Gilbert raised his head, he was ankle-deep in glass and other debris.

Although his home needs more repairs than a roof, he has no intention of leaving it now.

The die-hard Marine explained his reasons in military terms.

“The ship has taken on water and is listing a little bit, but it hasn’t sunk yet, and I’m not going to abandon ship,” Gilbert said.