"I always worked," said Harley Utterback, "sometimes even two jobs
at a time because that was what I needed to do to take care of my
family. It was just the right thing to do."
However, a few years
ago something strange began happening to Harley. He was young and
appeared to be physically fit, but he suddenly began having trouble
with his back. And, the problems went from bad to worse in a very
short period of time. When Utterback went to the doctor, he was told
there was a defect in his spine, and it was rapidly deteriorating.
The only solution to prevent Utterback from becoming a complete
invalid was surgery on the spine. During surgery steel rods were
placed along Utterback's spinal cord to help keep his back straight
and to help him walk. After he recovered from the surgery, Utterback
could walk, but not well, and not without a cane.
Having always held jobs that involved walking and physical labor,
Utterback soon found that his working days were over. According to
Chaka, the couple did apply for disability Social Security, but it
was a hard fight to finally convince the powers that be that Harley
was in no condition to hold down a job.
Now Chaka works at the Hampton Inn and Harley's disability
benefits keep the family going, but the dream of someday owning
their own home was one that seemed to be out of the family's reach.
It was a year ago, while the family was living in public housing,
that the Housing Authority director, Steve Allen, talked to Harley
about applying for a house through Habitat. Utterback said he never
expected to be doing something like that, and he certainly never
expected to be chosen.
"You have to understand, there are a lot of people who need
homes. I feel really blessed that it was my family that was chosen,"
Sunday afternoon Habitat for Humanity hosted the groundbreaking
ceremony for the Utterback house, which will be on Decatur Street.
Mike Irwin, Habitat president, began the day by explaining that
no one was supposed to be standing on this ground on this day. The
original plan had been to refurbish a home on Fifth Street for the
Before the service Irwin told LDN that the group had hoped to
refurbish that house, but when they got inside and started looking
at what would have to be done, they came to realize the house on
Fifth Street was going to be more of a "tear down and rebuild" than
He said in the meantime the lot on Decatur, which had been
donated to Habitat by the Marie Lucas Trust, was ready for a build.
During the ceremony a variety of litanies are delivered by the
leaders of Habitat and all those in attendance. There are also
Scripture readings, which at this occasion were presented by the
Rev. Father Fontana. Mike Kubat spoke briefly about the build and
encouraged anyone who had time to come out and give a few hours of
work to the build.
Ward 3 Alderwoman Jonie Tibbs was also on hand representing Mayor
Keith Snyder, the city of Lincoln and herself, as she noted this new
home was being built in her ward. She said she wanted to
congratulate the family and wish them many, many years of happiness
sharing their home with family and friends.
Larry Martincic introduced the Utterback family and offered them
an opportunity to say a few words.
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When Harley Utterback spoke, he said he was indebted to Steve
Allen, who had encouraged him and his family to apply for a home.
Allen will serve as the family's mentor in the building process and
He also remembered George Dahmm. Utterback said it was Dahmm who
kept him going a lot of the time by telling him that he would only
get out of this experience what he put into it.
He also commented on the loss of Dahmm recently, saying he was
greatly missed and Utterback was sure everyone who knew George felt
the same way.
Before the ceremony began, Chaka Utterback talked briefly with
LDN. She said they were excited and grateful for the opportunity
they have for a new home.
"Even on the way over here, I started tearing up just thinking
about it," she said.
During the ceremony Utterback asked his wife if she'd like to say
something, and she declined, still clearly emotional over the day,
saying she wasn't the public speaker in the family.
Utterback said he knew his two sons were excited that they would
each have rooms of their own. The Utterbacks' older son, Aven, will
enter junior high school this year. But Utterback said Dakyn, who is
8, will get to stay in the school where he has been since the
beginning, and they were all happy to have that happen as well.
Utterback told the group on hand that what they were receiving
exceeded all their expectations for a home.
"We'd have been happy with a tool shed at one time," he quipped.
As the day began to wind down, it surprised everyone when young
Aven spoke up, saying he was really happy that the family would have
a real house and that everyone was so willing to help out.
Finally, Utterback said it had been quite a week for the family
as he had hip surgery on Wednesday, attended a family wedding
yesterday, today broke ground for a new home and later they were
planning to celebrate Aven's birthday.
Habitat for Humanity maintains a website where those who are
interested in coming out and working on the Utterback home can check
for building dates. The homes are built by all volunteers, and the
more they have, the quicker the project will move along, and the
sooner the Utterbacks will be enjoying the pleasures and
responsibilities of homeownership.
[By NILA SMITH]