Hurricane Irma came, and she dropped a tornado virtually into Earl and Elizabeth Bishop’s Immokalee backyard. The tornado churned up dirt and dust and sandblasted the house. It tore off the vinyl siding and blew open the backdoor. Then, the tornado sucked everything inside the house out that backdoor.
Then came the rain to soak the house. Water crept into floors and walls. It soaked drywall and swelled doorframes. The bathtub fell through the floor joists.
Then came the termites, who love wet wood, who went through the house and ate up everything they could. And yet, Earl and Elizabeth soldiered on, stepping over holes in floors and making do.
Then came Eliot Tucker, and Paul Kelly, and a flood of gray shirts.
On January 8, Team Rubicon began rebuilding the Bishop’s home from below the floor up. They cleaned out the dirt under the house, raked it down, and put in a vapor barrier to protect against water damage and termites alike. They poured new footers and pylons; installed all new floor joists and all subfloors, and put up new interior and exterior walls.
“There’s one piece of wood left in there from original house,” says Eliot Tucker, Team Rubicon’s site supervisor. “It’s the center beam on the floor joists. Everything else was replaced.” That included swapping the hot water heater outside with a tankless water heater inside, installing new electric and plumbing throughout, and replacing the roof.
“We pretty much built a new house from inside out,” says Kelly. And a sturdy one to boot. “I don’t know that a tank could take that house down.”
Next door, at his children’s house, Earl Bishop, 77, was silently watching the progress. Perhaps he noticed the wheelchair ramp rising to the front door or the new deck extending out back, but he remained quiet. He’d sit in the yard, and every now and then, he’d wave, says Tucker, but he never said a thing to the crew.
Yet if Bishop could see what was happening on the outside, he had no idea what was in transpiring inside. Recognizing that Bishop had extended disabilities from his own time in the service, Tucker and the crew began making accommodations. The ADA compliant ramp to the front door was just the beginning. The team also bumped out hallways and widened doorways, all in anticipation of the day Bishop might find himself in a wheelchair. And, they painted the bathroom blue.
“The only request this man had was that he wanted the bathroom blue,” says Tucker. “That’s not in our color palate, so the Salvation Army bought the blue paint for his bathroom.”
In early March, Team Rubicon’s work on the Bishop house was completed. They put away the tools and tidied the home, and Ron, the volunteer manager, even took Elizabeth Bishop into town to get her hair done.
And then, on March 5, Team Rubicon walked the Bishops through their old new house, and handed off the keys. The first thing Earl Bishop said when he walked in the house was “They did a good job.” By the time they got back to the bedroom, Bishop was on the brink on tears.