Helping Habitat build homes

Richard Ratzlaff is a Montreal native who transferred from Canada to the States for his job with Elkem. After working for some time in Niagara Falls, N.Y., the company transferred him to the Marietta plant, which was bought by Eramet around the time of his retirement.

After Ratzlaff retired as a metallurgical engineer in 1999, he worked for Eramet as a contractor for three more years and started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

For more than 10 years Ratzlaff has been an active volunteer with the organization, helping completely build or rehabilitate already-existing homes.

One current project that is just about complete is the rehabilitation of a home on Ohio 26, just past Hidden Hills Orchard. Ratzlaff and other Habitat volunteers put in five to seven hours of work on Thursdays and Saturdays, getting homes ready for families to move into.

Question: You said you are Canadian. Why did you decide to stay in Marietta?

Answer: We love Marietta, we’re church-going people. My wife, Elfrieda, and I sing in the church choir and play the handbells. We have many good friends, the same friends who welcomed us when we came here 19 years ago. We enjoy living here; it’s great.

Q: Tell me a little about your work with Habitat.

A: I’m one of only a very few. There’s only five of us. We’ve been pretty busy with this (current) house. (The Ohio 26 project) is a refinish project. This house needed to be completely redone plumbing and electrical wise. It’s almost a brand new house now.

Q: You said there are only five people helping?

A: We used to have six to eight but some have gotten older and decided to hang it up. We are looking for some younger people. There may be a few more coming on when we start building a new house. We need to do some more recruiting; some of us are getting older.

Q: Does work ever get difficult with five workers?

A: Yeah, it slows everything down, of course. There’s a list of things you want to get done. If we had more (people), things would speed up. Still four to six is a good number. We also sometimes have students from Marietta College … building a house (sometimes) takes more work than we can muster.

Q: How long have you been involved with Habitat?

A: About 10 years. I retired at 65; it was 1999. And then I sort of got involved seriously. I had a bit of time on my hands. I’ve enjoyed it very much; it’s been an excellent experience for me. Habitat has been wanting me to go on the board … I’d rather do the work than be involved with picking people out and fundraising.

Q: How did you get involved with Habitat?

A: I did a couple of stints with Habitat in other places. I’ve always enjoyed the carpentry work and electric and plumbing. There’s real enjoyment on my part doing that work. Then the opportunity arose to work in Marietta … I like the fellowship with various people you get to know. I really enjoyed getting to know different cultures and backgrounds. A lot of people have lived here all their lives and have great stories.

Q: What do you enjoy most?

A: I think the fellowship with the other men. Once in a while we get a woman (volunteer), but not very often. It’s getting to know these people and their skills and the families (we help). They put in 300 to 400 hours of what we call “sweat equity.” This particular family (on Ohio 26) is a nice family and it will be a nice home for them. And you know, seeing something come up from a pile of lumber, it becomes a house. I take a lot of pictures and try to give the family a CD. They can see the progress; they’re involved in it and they can see how it goes together. It’s particularly exciting with a new house; it’s a complete build versus something already standing. The (current family) won’t get a complete rundown of how the house was built, but they will see the work during the rehabilitation was done.

Q: Is there anything you find difficult about your work?

A: I think climbing on ladders and up on the roof. I tend to not do that anymore. I let the young people do that. Roof work, I try to avoid now. I had a hip replacement seven years ago. I have had little issues with my hip and when you get to be my age, arthritis becomes an issue. My doctor says Arthur is creeping up on you. I think other than that I like doing drywall, plumbing and electrical. All those things are enjoyable, but not roofs and ladders. I’ll do it if nobody else can do it, but I prefer not to if I can avoid it.

Q: Are there any upcoming Habitat projects?

A: Yes, we have another house started. The foundation is in. It’s on Braun Road, north of Devola. In the spring we will be starting to put in the main floor, walls and roof. That’s coming up in April/May.

Q: Do you have any advice for those wanting to volunteer, why they should choose Habitat?

A: It’s a great learning experience. You can learn so much from these people who have done it for so many years. If you’re thinking of owning a home or maybe a young person needs to understand how stuff works. You can learn a lot being involved and installing plumbing and electrical. It comes as a learning experience for young people; you can pick up a lot of good information.

Interview conducted by Amanda Nicholson.