The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 13, 2013

New home for storm victims begins, ends with nod to Orioles

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

JOPLIN, Mo. — The construction of a home at 2630 S. Wall Ave. started and ended with former Baltimore Orioles players Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson.

They are superheroes to homeowner Ed Kunce, who with his wife, Angela, officially took possession of the Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity home Wednesday afternoon after a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Last April, when Ed Kunce, a lifelong Orioles fan, learned that baseball Hall of Famer Ripken would be in Joplin helping with a Habitat for Humanity project, he called his son, Travis, and they drove to the site to say hello and meet him.

That set into motion the Kunces applying for their own Habitat home to replace the 20th Street apartment they lost when it came crashing down around them in the May 2011 tornado.

As partners in the project, Ed and Angela Kunce were required to put in 300 hours of sweat equity and to pay a zero interest, 20-year mortgage. Their work on the home began with the wall raising last October, during which Ed Kunce carried a photo of Ripken in his pocket and Travis Kunce wore his Orioles jersey.

During the Wednesday ribbon-cutting, volunteer Christine Beydler — who hails from Baltimore — had a surprise housewarming gift for them: a framed, autographed portrait of Robinson in uniform that the baseball great signed especially for Ed Kunce.

Habitat Director Scott Clayton also recognized some local superheroes during the ceremony, and they actually showed up wearing capes and masks. Their apparel was a nod to their group’s name, The Justice League, so named because its members work in area branches of justice and law enforcement.

The group’s effort in recovery and rebuilding began with debris removal in the weeks after the storm. Members then decided to raise the $50,000 required by Habitat to sponsor a home and to commit the work hours necessary to make it a reality.

“When we decided to build a house, I knew we’d build a house,” said Jasper County Circuit Judge Gayle Crane, who chose to wear her robe instead of a cape for the ceremony. “It’s been an almost two-year process for us, but the people who are in these kinds of careers are by their very nature very determined and very service-oriented people. I’m not surprised they made it happen.”

The Kunces said during an open house after the ceremony that they had been counting the days until that moment.

“It’s been five months and four days, to be exact,” Ed Kunce said. “It’s such a relief.”

The couple will move in on Saturday.

“We’re ready to move forward in life,” he said.

Coming Sunday

ON SUNDAY, the Globe will publish “If Walls Could Talk,” a special feature that chronicles in words and photos the work by more than 90 volunteers from across the nation who helped in the home’s construction.