By Emily Younker and Scott Meeker
Two Joplin residents have found that retirement is a lot of work.
But John Williams and Mike Hamilton, who spend most of their weekdays volunteering with local nonprofit rebuilding organizations, probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
Williams was no stranger to carpentry work, but he got a crash course in home building after the tornado. A member of College Heights Christian Church — which became a massive volunteer and distribution center in the wake of the storm — Williams volunteered his time on three builds sponsored by his church.
“I went from there to the Extreme Makeover homes, then the ‘Ten for Joplin’ project on Kentucky Avenue,” he said.
The latter project was sponsored by the Tulsa Habitat for Humanity, and Williams stayed on with the Joplin Habitat group as a full-time volunteer. In the two years since the tornado, the 66-year-old estimates that he’s worked on more than 60 houses. Nearly every day he can be found working at one of the local Habitat building sites. Sometimes he’s part of a small building crew, other days he might be lending assistance to a large group of volunteers who have come to Joplin to lend their time and energy.
“I’ve learned a lot of stuff through the entire home-building process,” he said. “Parts of it I already knew, parts of it I didn’t. It’s fun to do and it keeps me busy. Being retired (from MoDOT), this is what I wanted to do ... volunteer work.”
Traveling between the program’s multiple building sites to work can be tiring, he said, but also extremely rewarding.
“I even got to present keys (to a house) to one of the families. They’re just so thankful and the kids are so happy ... they run in and get their bedrooms picked out.”
Hamilton, 67, retired to Joplin in January 2012 from Garden City, Kan., where he worked as an electric technician for a power plant. His primary objective was to be closer to his mother, who lives in north Joplin and was unaffected by the tornado. But once he moved and settled, he felt the call of volunteerism.
“I saw the need, that’s all,” he said. “And I have the skills to do it, so why not?”
Now a full-time volunteer, Hamilton said he spends 30 to 40 hours each week with Rebuild Joplin, rotating among the organization’s active work sites of house rebuilds. After Rebuild Joplin houses have a frame, a roof and walls, he works with a small team of other electricians to hook up all the electric wiring in them.
He estimates he has worked on nearly 20 houses, with each structure’s electrical work taking up to a week to complete. He also assists with plumbing and other areas where extra volunteers might be needed.
Hamilton, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam era, said he enjoys meeting other volunteers, particularly those who have come from outside the Four-State region. He also said volunteering helps him to stay busy and keeps him young.
Although he acknowledges he would generally prefer to stay out of the spotlight, Hamilton said he likes knowing that he is helping someone.
“Let’s put it this way — I’ve had a good life,” he said. “It’s been good to me, and it’s time to give back.”