Dennis McKenzie and Mike Bevins were friends at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. They stood up in each other's weddings. And while they now live on opposite sides of Michigan, they are still friends. So it's no surprise that when Bevins, a sergeant in the Army Reserve, was injured in Iraq, McKenzie stepped up to the plate.
McKenzie wrote a letter to the "Drew and Mike Show," a hit radio program on WRIF, Detroit. The DJs have a fund that donates to various causes and McKenzie was hoping they could help out. Drew and Mike ended up reading his letter on the air, and that brought in much more than expected.
In the letter, McKenzie explained how Bevins, an 18-year veteran, served in Bosnia, Kosovo and then Iraq. "On February 16 of this year, Mike was critically wounded in an attack North of Baghdad. An improvised explosive device was detonated as the vehicle he was in drove past. One soldier was killed; Mike and three others were wounded. Mike's wounds were severe. Shrapnel from the blast lacerated his face and caused several skull fractures. He has lost sight in one eye and faces reconstructive surgeries to replace the missing bones in his face and skull. His progress has been phenomenal, and he and his family are working through his recovery."
This wasn't the first time that the Bevins family faced hardship. McKenzie also explained that in the fall of 2003, a fire leveled their house. Having no renter's insurance, they lost most of what they owned. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire, and they were able to purchase a house. Bevins and his family had been in the new house three weeks before he shipped out for Iraq.
McKenzie's letter then noted that the new house was in desperate need of a new roof. "Mike and I talked about trying to get one up before next winter if he was back. He and his family have never sought assistance through these horrible events, and they've pushed through them with an overwhelming optimism and sense of thankfulness for their being together and alive ... As a good friend, and moreover an American, I'd like to thank the Bevins family for the sacrifice they've endured ... Home repairs and the stress that goes with them don't wait until you're ready and able to attend to them. To eliminate some of the worry by providing a roof for that house would be a wonderful ‘thank you' to Mike and his family."
When McKenzie wrote to the radio station, he had already found plenty of people willing to pitch in for labor, but his problem was finding sources of materials. He had contacted some of the "big box" retailers and was told that they had policies against assisting individuals. But after Drew and Mike read his letter on the air, all the help he needed came rushing in.
First was Monroe Aluminum in Monroe, Mich. Pete Torzewski, the company's outside sales and customer service representative, describes the outfit as a "mom and pop" supplier that does $9-11 million year. The company offers rooftop deliveries of all types of residential and commercial roofing materials.
Torzewski had heard request for help on the Drew and Mike show-especially the part that mentioned how larger suppliers would not help. "We've always helped out and thought this was a worthy cause," says Torzewski, who could empathize because he had once broken his back. He needed help, and got it. Torzewski talked to owner Mark Granticelli, and the company got involved.
Monroe Aluminum supplied everything but the shingles: ice and water shield, felt, nails, staples, ventilation, etc. Bevins's house is located in Kalamazoo, Mich., on the other side of the state from Detroit, so another company, Maxima Plastics Services, drove from Kalamazoo to get the material.
The story on the shingles went much the same way. SGI Construction, Mt. Clemens, Mich., does roofing, siding, gutters and landscaping. Co-owner Bob Shaffer also heard the request for help on the Drew and Mike show, so he talked to his partner Tony Ermalovich. They decided to donate the needed GAF 30-year Timberline dimensional shingles-"the good stuff," says Shaffer. Since SGI is also in the Detroit metro area, Shaffer called his local supplier, Allied Building Products Co., and found that there was a location in Grand Rapids, Mich., close to Kalamazoo.
"So we scheduled a delivery," says Schaffer. "We were happy to do it."
At about this point in time, Roofing Contractor stumbled onto the scene, thinking there was a story-but McKenzie was still looking for help. He now had all of the supplies and plenty of guys willing to give their time and muscle power (and do the tear-off), and even someone who donated a dumpster (Best Way Disposal). But he still needed a roofer or two who could provide the necessary technical expertise. We turned to John D'Annunzio, our technical columnist and the president of Paragon Roofing Technologies, Shelby Township, Mich., to see if he knew any Kalamazoo-area roofers to help out. D'Annunzio called up Local 149 in Detroit, and the last piece of the puzzle came together.
Mark Petersen, the president of Local 149, says that the union sent out a flyer and two of its members stepped up. Crane Roofing sent two men and some tools and equipment, and Schreiber Corp. also sent some tools. Petersen went to the job site as well.
No one who had any part in this effort was looking for publicity and Petersen sums it up when he simply says, "It was the right thing to do. It was our honor to do it."
The reroof project took place the weekend of June 25, 2004. "What a great couple of days," reports McKenzie. "Local 149 from Detroit showed up, and we had about 14 guys who work with Mike pitch in. We were able to get 90 percent of the tear-off done on Friday. The four guys from the 149 drove from Detroit and laid the shingles on Saturday. The selfless effort shown by the 149 touched everybody involved with this."
McKenzie explains that in addition to the roof, there was also a problem with water run-off at the back of the house. "This ranch has a walk-out basement, and from years of neglect the slopes on either side were simple worn hills of mud leading into the basement. Also, the back yard drained toward the home."
As luck would have it, Bevins's, younger brother works summers for a landscape company (Green Frog Lawn & Landscape, Allegan, Mich.). "They heard about the effort to replace the roof, and decided to repair the issues with the drainage," says McKenzie. "They showed up with three skids of pavers, 10 tons of boulders, sand and gravel. While we were doing the roof, these guys excavated the back yard, built two new boulder retaining walls, laid pavers, and ran underground drains away from the house."
What's the bottom line? "Sgt. Bevins will be able to come home and recover without stressing about getting the house up to par," says McKenzie. "Our goal was to take his mind off getting the house fixed. Thanks to all these wonderful people, his recovery will be a lot more comfortable."
As an added bonus, when we first talked to McKenzie, Bevins wasn't expected home until this fall, but it turns out that he made it back the last week of July. Bevins says that his friend had hoped the new roof would be a surprise, but that since it turned out to be such a big project, McKenzie decided to spill the beans.
"I was overwhelmed," says Bevins. "It looks amazing, it's gorgeous. I just want to tell everyone involved a big ‘Thank you'!"