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At 90, Francis Garrett has done most Habitat construction tasks

By Steve Blewett

For many people, “church” is closely associated with a structure somewhere—four walls, a ceiling and all the rest of the regular accoutrements—along with the community that goes with it.

Francis Garrett
Francis Garrett with construction supervisor Mark Correll.

For Francis Garrett, “church” is Habitat for Humanity-Spokane—including the 150 or so homes he has helped build, and the volunteers and others he has in the past and still does work with.

Francis, who turned 90 last September, doesn’t have anything against typical churches.  He was baptized into and grew up in the Southern Baptist church.

Travel around the United States and the world on his various jobs with Chicago Bridge and Iron Company made it difficult for him to stay connected with regular congregations. 

After he retired and settled in Spokane in 1980, he was so busy with other things he never reconnected with his religious roots. 

One of the things that kept him busy was rental properties he purchased and renovated.  Then, his wife became ill, and he became her primary caregiver until her illness progressed and Hospice stepped in to help.

When she died 13 years ago he gave the rental properties to his daughter Ginger and son Ronald, who encouraged him to volunteer at the COPS substation in Northwest Spokane and to join the Neighborhood Observation Patrol—NOPS.

A neighbor who is a member of Audubon Park Methodist Church recruited him to help sort food every Tuesday at Second Harvest Food Bank, and another friend introduced him to Habitat.

Habitat seems a natural connection for someone with Francis’ background.

Over his 48-year career with Chicago Bridge—he began with the company when he was 17—he progressed from filing drawings to becoming manager of sales administration for the company in the Philippines, where he presented a proposal to build the penstocks for a major hydroelectric development in Indonesia—quite leap for him from his childhood in Birmingham, Alabama.

In his 48 years with the company, he worked on construction projects around the world, including refinery projects in Mississippi, Germany and South Africa, and nuclear reactor containment vessels back in the U.S.

 Now, he claims he is learning as much working at Habitat as he is able to teach.

“I have done pretty much everything with Habitat,” he said,  “framing, wiring, sheet rock work, some finish work (including putting the facing on electrical outlets and light switches the day he was interviewed), but they don’t let me up on the roofs anymore—I’m a little wobbly right now.”

He may be, but that doesn’t diminish the admiration he evinces from his coworkers.

“I’d like to be half as good as Francis when I’m 90,” said Mark Correll, construction supervisor at the Habitat project at 1216 E. North Street.  “He is willing to do any kind of work.”

Francis is modest about his contributions.

“At one dedication a little girl took my hand and led me into the house and up the stairs into a bedroom and said, ‘This is my room.’  Well, you know, it just brought tears to my eyes,” Francis said.

“At my age it’s not so easy to drag myself out of bed in the morning, especially on days like this (it was 10 degrees outside that day), but working with these guys on these projects makes it easier.”

Francis appreciates helping people build a foundation for themselves and their families.

“There is nothing more important,” he said.

Francis said he learned his work ethic from his parents and his brother and three sisters.

“We were poor.  So we learned to do for ourselves,” he said.

Learning to do for himself also has come to mean doing for others, like the people who benefit from Habitat—especially the family of 12 who will soon move into a house Francis is helping finish.

Habitat for Humanity-Spokane, at 732 N. Napa, continually needs volunteers to help with construction.  Volunteers must be 16 years or older of any skill level.  Onsite training is provided—from swinging a hammer to running materials, stocking the warehouse and refinishing cabinets.

Construction volunteers help from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 12:30 to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Habitat-Spokane currently needs the following volunteers:  a materials coordinator to help with material deliveries; a warehouse manager to do inventory control, shipping and receiving, power tool repairs and vehicle maintenance, and construction site crew leaders, with background in home construction.

In addition, there are non-construction volunteer opportunities, serving on committees and in the office. Committees plan the annual “Raise the Roof” auction, procure auction items, develop house plans, secure supplies, work with families, build relations with the faith community, select families, choose sites, raise funds and do office work.

Habitat for Humanity-Spokane is an ecumenical, nonprofit Christian ministry whose mission is to bring the community together to build decent, affordable homes for people in need.

For information, call 534-2552.

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