Melba passed away suddenly in October, 2008. Devastating the family, especially Dick, he felt he needed to get away from the house and the winter, which kept him confined to his home without her after 57 years of marriage. Dick contemplated on what he wanted to do for several months. Being a veteran, he had thought of even joining the Peace Corp. But after a lot of thought, he wanted to go back to New Orleans and give back to the city that gave him so many happy memories of being with Melba.
Dick made arrangements to join the volunteers working with the Habitat for Humanity. He stays at a hotel in the city, 2 blocks from Bourbon Street, and drives to his worksite daily. He was surprised when he started working because most of the volunteers did not have any experience. He said, âThey donát even use nail guns!ã. Dick built houses in his younger days, and he is very much a âhandy manã. His granddaughter, Jennifer Reisz, went to New Orleans during her spring break from Wheeling Jesuit University to spend the week with her âpappyã and help him at his work sites. He celebrated his 80th birthday March 23. Several people, even a family, asked for him to join them on his birthday.
He has shared his knowledge of carpentry and made several friends while volunteering, which helps him feel fulfilled. He plans to return home in April so he can share his birthday with his family. Asked if he will return to New Orleans, he states that he will in the Fall. Itás starting to get too hot down there for him to be working in the heat. Thanks to men like him, he helps and does his part in keeping this country together.
Up on his ladder, helping put on the roof, Dick Heller plans to stay in New Orleans until he helps his friend complete the outside of her house.