The Rev. George Dean, a 90-year-old WW II veteran, and his 20-year-old adopted son Wayne look over their new home in Hawkins County’s Mooresburg section. Photo by Jeff Bobo.
ROGERSVILLE — The plight of a 90-year-old man whose home has deteriorated beyond the point of being habitable would touch anyone’s heart.
But when a church congregation from Florence, S.C., learned their summer mission project would be serving a 90-year-old displaced WWII hero, they knew the project must be heaven-sent.
Every summer the Rogersville-based Of One Accord ministry hosts missions from across the country who come to Hawkins County to perform home improvements for the needy. They do everything from minor repairs or building a porch to complete home renovations.
For the first time in the history of the program, however, this year a mission is building a house from the ground up.
Decorated World War II veteran Rev. George Dean lived in a little house on Dean Road in the Mooresburg community of Hawkins County for 22 years before persistent leaks caused entire sections of the structure to collapse, forcing him to abandon his home.
For the past two years Dean and his 20-year-old adopted son Wayne have been renting a room from his brother’s widow.
This is the third summer that the South Side Baptist Church from Florence, S.C., has come to do home improvements in Hawkins County.
Of One Accord director Sheldon Livesay said the Florence mission has among the program’s most skilled builders in its ranks. That’s why the South Side Baptist Church was presented with the challenge this summer of doing Of One Accord’s first-ever new home construction.
“When we can’t fix a house, it can’t be fixed,” Livesay said. “The structure and foundation of the house — there wasn’t a place to start and rebuild anything. We have 35 (mission) teams coming in this summer ... and if there’s anything (left on a house) they can start with, they can put up new walls or they can go underneath and redo the foundation or flooring. We’ve seen some miracles.”
Livesay added, “But in this one case everything you needed to attach to was already gone.”
Of One Accord’s summer mission program is being funded this year with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which requires a 50 percent match. The federal government allows the value of the donated labor to go toward required matching funds, however.
Still, with more than 300 projects on the drawing board this summer, Of One Accord’s summer mission program funds get stretched thin.
In many cases Of One Accord or the mission group itself will chip in funds needed to complete a project.
The Florence mission is building what Livesay describes as a “Katrina House” — a small, one-bedroom house similar to the emergency homes built along the Gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina.
Aside from providing construction labor, the Florence group has also contributed cabinets, kitchen appliances, a water heater, bathroom fixtures, and a heating and cooling unit similar to the kind used in motels.
Livesay said the home is “compact” but it will get the job done.
“The idea is that we’re going to give him a dry, safe, comfortable place to live,” Livesay said. “He’s 90 years old, he served our country, and we’re doing the best we can to serve him.”
Dean was born in LaFollette in 1923, and he enlisted in the army shortly after World War II started.
In 1944-45, he marched through France and Germany with the 30th Division, 117th Infantry Regiment in Company K under the command of Gen. Leland Hobbs, supporting General George S. Patton’s armored divisions.
He saw Patton one time during the more than seven months he spent on the front lines. Patton showed up at a dangerous river crossing in enemy territory, took up a rifle and led the crossing. Dean said it was an act of bravery that inspired him and everyone who witnessed it.
Dean’s bravery during the war was recognized as well.
“I was a bazooka man,” Dean said. “I knocked the tracks off of a tank over in Stahnsdorf, Germany, and saved an outfit, and they gave me a Bronze Star for that. I had all kinds of medals, but when my first wife died (somebody) stole everything I had. They even stole my uniform.”
Dean said, “I was over there on the front lines seven months and 13 days, and never did get off the front line. I wound up in Magdeburg, Germany, 50 miles from Berlin on the bank of the Elbe River (when the war ended).”
Dean said he was an automotive mechanic for a total of 55 years, working up past his 70s.
As a devout Christian he was “saved” as a young man, and shortly thereafter Dean felt the calling to spread the gospel and became a pastor himself.
Although he’s still in pretty good shape for his age, Dean said he couldn’t keep the old house together.
It was built with particle board, which he didn’t know when he bought it, and once it started leaking the house fell apart.
“The back side of the house started falling down first,” Dean said. “It fell in way down next to the ground and we couldn’t get to the bathroom. Then the kitchen started collapsing and the ceiling started falling in — filled the floor full of old dirt and trash — and finally it was more than could have been cleaned up.”
South Side Baptist Church member Tommy Barfield owns his own construction company in Florence. Although it has been a challenge adapting to Tennessee’s building codes, Barfield said he can’t imagine a project that would be more rewarding.
“I didn’t get to come this time for the pilot trip, but when they came back and said they found a veteran who needed a home, it was automatic,” Barfield said. “You could tell that God was in it, and it was just automatically (obvious) that was where we needed to be.”
Barfield added, “It’s so cool to be able to find someone who can correspond with history, who was there when history was made. We make history in the different countries we help now, but to be in a military action with Patton is just unbelievable to me. ... This opportunity to help was great. I wish we could do more. They all deserve more.”
Dean said he believes whether you’re a Christian or not, folks can give 10 percent of their earnings to Christian organizations like Of One Accord and know it’s being used for those in real need of help.
“Someone else is in trouble somewhere,” Dean said. “Someone else is needing help. If people would just support these (missions) and keep this going — this is something that’s worth more than diamonds, silver or gold. It’s more precious than that.”
He’d like to live long enough “to help some poor lost soul” — even if he has nothing to offer but a prayer or a few words of encouragement.
Dean added tearfully, “Now I’ve got something where I can relax the rest of my days. I don’t know how many more days I’ve got. One morning the sun will come up in the east, and she’ll go down in the west for the last time in this old life. But here on this earth I’ve got a home. I’ve got a home.”