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Joseph Bodenbach/The Banner-Press 

David City's Matt Nadrchal slides back to first on a pickoff play by the Schuyler Legion team on Tuesday, June 13 at Behrns Field.

Pitching in for a friend

Editor's note: This story was completed for the June 22 edition of the newspaper. The newspaper learned that Don Hilger passed away on Wednesday, June 21.

There wasn’t much talk Monday evening at the new house between L and M on Ninth Street. Hammering and cutting, yes. Talking, no.

The experienced construction guys moved deftly between the measuring tape and the wall, starting at the footing about 5:30 p.m. They didn’t quit until dark. At one point, there were about 10 workers hanging siding, with another group providing some measuring and go-fer support.

Those without the necessary skills marveled at the pace and accuracy of those with the skills. The house will be the future home of Mark and Katie Pleskac.

When the workers were finished, they begrudgingly posed for a photograph. They even grumbled some, apparently because they didn’t come to work after their day jobs for the recognition.

They showed up for Don Hilger.

Hilger and his longtime employee Les Mastera (whose name is on the truck under Hilger’s) needed to wrap up the exterior of the house so Mastera could concentrate on the interior. Hilger, who is battling cancer, wasn’t there.

“I couldn’t do this by myself,” Mastera said.

Several of the workers noted that over the years, if anyone was in a tight spot, Don Hilger was among the first to step up and help.

“He’d be the first one,” said Jim Vandenberg, Hilger’s brother in law, who helped to put the crew together. Steve Byers, manager of Sack Lumber, said that a Monday night was chosen because so many workers are would be busy on a Saturday.

The crew leaders had an extra challenge: Having enough workers but not too many. A wider call for helpers would have brought out dozens of people and made the job unmanageable. They knew the work would need to pass Don's standards.

"We would have had 75 people there," Byers said.

The work pushed past sunset, and the back of the house was completely covered with siding. Some of the crew would return Tuesday night to finish the front.

Though they had to be talked into posing for the photo, the workers wore a look of satisfaction. 

Hilger turned 70 in February and celebrated 50 years in the construction business. He worked 28 years with his partner, Jerry Tuma before going on his own in 1995, and adding 20 houses to his list. And as if he wasn’t busy enough, he took on his uncle’s insulation business as a sideline, and for more than a decade, a convenience store. 

Back at his 50-year celebration, Hilger said: “It’s fun when you live in this town for 70 years and you know everybody.”

Apparently a lot of those who know Hilger are quite fond of him too.

Hilger’s daughter Diane Ulmer and son Scott Hilger listed the friends and family members who pitched in. More helpers were expected to come back to the project, so they knew the list was still incomplete: Les Mastera, Bob Kobza, Milo Vanis, Shorty Hilger, Terry Samek, Jim Vandenberg, Jeff Hilger, Tom Polacek, Ron Benes, Josh Coufal, Mike Zegers, Tom Samek, Keith Strizek, Steve Byers.

“John Kobus has been so much help for us, getting other projects completed,” Diane said.

Octavia family escapes disaster

OCTAVIA — About sundown June 13, Tiffany Ladehoff sensed that something just wasn’t right as she put her kids to bed.

She hadn’t paid much attention to the weather alerts issued during the blustery afternoon, when temperatures reached the 90s. Forecasters said a cold front would move through the area, triggering thunderstorms.

Ladehoff made sure her son Anekon Jakub, 3, and daughter Shakira Lerma, 9, were settled in. Their bedroom is at the north end of the mobile home, located at the northeast corner of Octavia.

She left the bedroom and stepped outside. Standing on the top of the steps, Ladehoff looked over the mobile home at the towering cottonwood tree, which stood about 50 feet west of the home. The top third of the tree was being whipped by the strong wind.

Ladehoff stepped back into the bedroom, shouting, “Go to the other end of the house!” she recalled on Wednesday.

Within seconds of her kids running past, a 30-foot section of the tree crashed onto the bedroom, slicing through the structure’s tin and plywood construction. The kids’ closet was exposed to the elements.

“It must’ve been God that told me” to rush the kids from the room, she said. “I don’t care what it was."

Next door in another mobile home on the same property, Ladehoff's mother Judy Sound Sleeper heard the sound of a loud thud. On Wednesday, she was still shaken, wondering how she would have handled the kids being injured by the falling tree.

“That’s the worst storm we’ve had in all the years I’ve lived here,” said Sound Sleeper. She said she grew up on the family’s property there, and remembers the tree being about 30 feet tall when she was a child.

Now she is eager to have the cottonwood removed so her daughter can bring another mobile home to the site. Surprisingly, power to the two mobile homes was not interrupted until later, when a tree across the street fell on a power line.

By noon Wednesday, Anekon’s grandfather, Terry Jakub, had come from Schuyler with a loader to remove the massive trunk from the home. A group of friends also came from Schuyler to help the family with the cleanup.

Susie Workman, who lives about a block away, was there to offer her assistance with clothing and food for the family.

Ladehoff was humbled by the friends and neighbors reaching out to help.

“Another two seconds and we could have all been gone,” she said.

American Red Cross volunteers were on the scene to assess the damage and offer short-term assistance for the family.

Ladehoff said she also received messages from her co-workers at Camaco in Columbus.

“They were asking, ‘Do you need any help?’ It was amazing. I didn’t expect anything like this," she said.

Octavia damage

About two blocks away, Octavia Village Board Chairman Rick Kopecky was working with a crew of volunteers at the corner of Broad and Dix streets. Dix Street was blocked by a 30-foot section of a tree that snapped on the west side of the road. The tree belonged to an absentee landowner, but the village needed it to be hauled away.

Village Board Member John Hodyc was joined by local residents, including his son Johnny Hodyc and neighbor Carol Shockley.

Shockley said neighbors were helping each other pick up the branches that fell on properties. But first they had to help the village get one of the main intersections cleared. Kopecky said he was grateful for the volunteers who came out to help clear the street.

Courtesy photo 

A large chunk of cottonwood tree fell on the mobile home where Tiffany Ladehoff and her two children live in Octavia during Tuesday night's storm.