Archdeacon: UD football team in cleanup effort on Madden Hills street

Dayton Flyers teammates (left to right) quarterback Ryan Van Schelven, wide receiver Kyle Hazell and quarterback Cole Dow put in a flower bed in front of Hazel Higgins’ home on Weaver Street Saturday as part of the Rebuild Together Dayton effort.  (Tom Archdeacon photo)

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Dayton Flyers teammates (left to right) quarterback Ryan Van Schelven, wide receiver Kyle Hazell and quarterback Cole Dow put in a flower bed in front of Hazel Higgins’ home on Weaver Street Saturday as part of the Rebuild Together Dayton effort. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

She had a sleepless night.

“Hazel told me this morning that she didn’t sleep a wink last night,” Cathi Spaugy said Saturday morning. “She said she was so excited about everything that was going to happen that she felt like a kid at Christmas.”

For Hazel Higgins, Santa Claus was University of Dayton football coach Rick Chamberlin and his Flyers football team who showed up at her Weaver Street home in the Madden Hills neighborhood of West Dayton and worked on several rehab and cleanup projects, not only at her tidy place, but around an overgrown, trash-strewn abandon home across the street.

It was all part of the National Rebuilding Day efforts put on locally by the non-profit organization Rebuilding Together Dayton.

One of the main focuses of the organization – which provides year-round help, not just a one-day, big splash event – is to fix up the homes of low income, longtime Dayton homeowners – especially the elderly – and preserve their neighborhoods.

And the 75-year-old Higgins fit that bill.

After being raised in Alabama, married at 18 and moved by her then husband to Cleveland at 19, she came to Dayton in 1973 – “I had family here,” she said – when the marriage dissolved.

She moved into her home almost 37 years ago, worked on the assembly line at NCR and later at Kodak, and raised her three daughters.

“The neighborhood was beautiful when I came here,” she said. “It was all older people. I was almost the youngest on the street.

“But the neighborhood is not what it used to be. The Baileys across the street died. Miss Williams is gone, too, and so is Miss Wright.”

When I sat with Higgins at her dining room table Friday afternoon, she suddenly got up and opened the front door.

“Look at this!” she said as she pointed to the big, two-story house where the Baileys once lived.

The house was abandoned now. The first-floor windows were boarded up, but the ones upstairs were all shattered. The front porch was being choked by an overgrowth of bushes and weeds.

There was debris everywhere, especially at the corner of the lot where someone – other people on the street later told me it was someone in the neighborhood – routinely tossed bags of trash, many of them now ripped open.

While that was a constant eyesore, it didn’t match another sign of neighborhood decline for her. One defined by constant heartache.

On August 3, 2019, her grandson, Craig Cortner III – once a track standout at Belmont High – died of multiple gunshots in an apartment on South Euclid Street, not far from where it intersects with Weaver.

“It’s still not solved, that’s what we’re going through now,” she said as her eyes filled with tears. “He was 29 when it happened. He was my youngest daughter’s son and now she can’t live in her place. She lives with my oldest daughter. It’s really hurt our family.”

While there have been other success stories – she just attended one grandson’s U.S. Air Force graduation in San Antonio and another grandson was a star running back at Chaminade-Julienne High – there has been other hurt too.

Two of Cortner’s relatives – both teenagers – were shot and killed in 2019, as well. One, Jonte Tinsley had been a standout football player at Meadowdale High and was on the Ohio Dominican University team.

And then eight months later, as the COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping into the area, Higgins was hit by a debilitating case of the virus.

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Hazel Higgins sits in in the home she’s lived in on Weaver Street for 37 years. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

Hazel Higgins sits in in the home she’s lived in on Weaver Street for 37 years.  (Tom Archdeacon photo)

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Hazel Higgins sits in in the home she’s lived in on Weaver Street for 37 years. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

It took her a long time to recover and today she said she still tires out quickly:

“I like keep my home up and I used to go through this house ‘Bam! Bam! Bam!’ cleaning and fixing what needed to be fixed. But now it just really knocks me out.”

And that’s why Saturday was so important.

The UD football team and some additional volunteers were giving her home a whirlwind makeover. They were going to put up a privacy fence, paint the interior, put up all new closet doors, an exhaust hood over the stove and a ceiling fan. They’d fix electrical outlets, add lights outside, put in a flower bed and even clean up the abandon property across the street.

“I just can’t believe this is happening,” Higgins said soon after a couple of dozen Flyers players walked onto her property. “This is wonderful.”

Rebuild Together Dayton

The Flyers connected with Rebuild Together Dayton effort 15 years ago thanks to the organization’s CEO Amy Radachi and Marty Coates, a former UD football player, who owns Coates Custom Homes and had joined the Rebuilding Dayton board of directors.

When he heard the group needed as many volunteers as it could get, he thought of the Flyers football team and especially Chamberlin, who had just taken over as the head coach after 28 years as an assistant.

Although he once was an All-American linebacker for the Flyers, Chamberlin’s real star quality showed not when he was tackling people, but when he was lifting them up.

Through his church – Northside Wesleyan on Neff Road – he has long been involved in missionary work in Africa and Mexico, as well as myriad Good Samaritan deeds here at home.

He said he wanted his players to realize there were people in this community who don’t have all the good fortune they have, and he wanted them to learn to give back to others who could use the help.

Over the years his teams have tackled all kinds of rehab and cleanup duties across town.

Saturday they were part of a group of 450 volunteers who worked on five homes and in the parks and gardens and streets of the Madden Hills and Edgemont areas of West Dayton.

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Dayton Flyers defensive tackle Joe Gits (right) and center Dylan DeMaison pick up trash while trying to avoid the numerous discarded drug needles they found as they cleaned up around an abandoned house of Weaver Street Saturday. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

Dayton Flyers defensive tackle Joe Gits (right)  and center Dylan DeMaison pick up trash while trying to avoid the numerous discarded drug needles they found as they cleaned up around an abandoned house of Weaver Street Saturday. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

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Dayton Flyers defensive tackle Joe Gits (right) and center Dylan DeMaison pick up trash while trying to avoid the numerous discarded drug needles they found as they cleaned up around an abandoned house of Weaver Street Saturday. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

‘Good for the mind, good for the soul’

Tom Luckett, a city of Kettering building inspector who also works with the Montgomery County Land Bank, was one of the volunteers working alongside the Flyers.

“I think this is good for them,” he said. “It can seem like a different planet if you’ve never seen some of this. "

Dylan DeMaison, a nearly 300-pound center for the Flyers from LaSalle High in Cincinnati – understood what Luckett meant when he and teammate Joe Gits were cleaning up mounds of trash behind the abandon house across the street

That’s when they came across several used drug needles.

“This is kind of wild,” he admitted. “I haven’t really seen anything like this before. It’s pretty eye opening.”

Gits agreed, but said it felt good to clean up the blight so Hazel Higgins wouldn’t have to look at it day after day: “It feels very cool when you can real help people.”

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Dayton Flyers offensive lineman George Fanelli works at clearing away some of the overgrowth in front of an abandon house on Weaver Street Saturday as part of the Rebuild Together Dayton effort. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

Dayton Flyers offensive lineman George Fanelli works at clearing away some of the overgrowth in front of an abandon house on Weaver Street Saturday as part of the Rebuild Together Dayton effort. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

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Dayton Flyers offensive lineman George Fanelli works at clearing away some of the overgrowth in front of an abandon house on Weaver Street Saturday as part of the Rebuild Together Dayton effort. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

Luke Brenner, a wide receiver from Grand Rapids, said a day like this was good for everybody:

“It’s good for the mind. It’s good for the soul and it’s good to be a part of the community we live in. "

As he watched the players work, Coates saw the same kind of communal bond he seen at each of these National Rebuilding Days. And it carried a lesson that would serve us all well the other 364 days of the year:

“There are all different races and creeds and backgrounds, and everybody is coming together for a common goal.”

No one though was moved more than Hazel Higgins:

“My friends back in Alabama say, ‘When are you coming back home?’ And I tell them, ‘This is home to me. I love Dayton. My family is here and I get a lot of support here. '

“And now this. I can’t believe someone would do all this for someone else. It’s like a dream that’s coming true. I want to stay in my home, but I don’t have the funds to do everything. And now someone is doing it for me.

“It’s hard to explain just what this really means to me.”

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Dayton Flyers wide receiver Luke Brenner works at clearing away some of the overgrowth and trash in front of an abandon house on Weaver Street Saturday as part of the Rebuild Together Dayton effort. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

Dayton Flyers wide receiver Luke Brenner works at clearing away some of the overgrowth and trash in front of an abandon house on Weaver Street Saturday as part of the Rebuild Together Dayton effort. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

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Dayton Flyers wide receiver Luke Brenner works at clearing away some of the overgrowth and trash in front of an abandon house on Weaver Street Saturday as part of the Rebuild Together Dayton effort. (Tom Archdeacon photo)

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