NEW LENOX – Three brothers packed their belongings Friday to leave a home that wouldn’t be the same when they returned.
Brothers Don, Lawrence and Ray Sabec have lived at their home at 717 S. Prairie Road in New Lenox since 1946. The brothers stayed in the house their mother and father raised them in, even after their parents died.
But over the years the house deteriorated. The brothers didn’t have the resources to fix things until several nonprofit organizations stepped in. Now they are staying at another home provided by one of the many volunteers who began a complete homemaker project this weekend.
The home might have deteriorated more if not for volunteers with Sharefest of New Lenox and Operation Nehemiah. The Sabecs’ home is the first home makeover project by Sharefest, a nonprofit organization that runs hundreds of service projects each fall.
Ray, 67, who was helping his older brothers load a van, said the home was where he was born and where his parents died.
“We’ve had a lot of births and deaths in this house. It’s very central,” he said.
The Sabec household
The brothers, lifelong bachelors, and their one sister, who does not live with them, were raised by their father, Mario, an Italian immigrant, and mother, Anna. Their father worked at a Joliet steel mill for 25 years before retiring in 1976, while their mother cleaned and cooked at home.
During his life, their father liked to garden – a hobby Ray shares himself – play piano and sing opera. He took opera lessons in Chicago and almost landed an audition on the Original Amateur Hour TV show until it was canceled, Ray said.
Lawrence said their mother, who came from Little Rock, Arkansas, was a “small, frail woman” who worked hard and cooked great food like sauerkraut and breaded pork chops. But she was too hard on herself.
“She was very self-effacing,” Ray said. “A little bit in my mind, she reminded me of Cinderella. Always scrubbing.”
Ray was the only son who graduated from high school. He attended Lincoln-Way Central High School and Southern Illinois University. He worked for a construction company and helped his brothers with landscaping jobs. Now, he works for the Vietnam Veterans of America as a solicitor.
The oldest brother, Don, 81, said he went to Joliet Township Central High School for one year, worked several jobs thereafter and got drafted to the U.S. Army in 1953. He was stationed in Germany during his years in the military.
Lawrence, 77, said he also went to Joliet Township Central High School until his sophomore year and worked several jobs when he left. Over the years, he worked at a wallpaper mill, a clothing store in Joliet and a machine shop before retiring.
Their mother and father died at their home from illnesses in 1978 and 1990 respectively.
The brothers never thought about sticking together after they were gone.
“We didn’t think of it that way. It just turned out that way,” Ray said.
Volunteers step in to help
In the years since their parents died, the brothers lived what they saw as normal, quiet lives. Ray likes to garden, Lawrence likes to fix cars, and Don likes to golf and bowl.
Their home began its slow decline over the years, with the roof of the utility room leaking and an old furnace working infrequently. The brothers tried to paint the house, but the money and time proved too much. In the summer, they would use fans to keep cool, but the cold winters would penetrate the house.
“On a real cold, windy day, you can feel the draft come in sometimes,” Lawrence said.
But now Sharefest is gathering hundreds of volunteers, tens of thousands of dollars in funding, and donated materials from various companies and organizations to restore the brothers’ home.
Gary Cheney, Sharefest organizer, said he regards the brothers as his neighbors.
“I’m called to love them. It’s that simple… they’re a family in need and we just got to reach out and help them,” he said.
Operation Nehemiah volunteers started some of renovations several weeks ago and began the majority of the work this weekend.
Rob Lach, executive director of Operation Nehemiah, said volunteers have been at the home almost daily, and are doing more than just renovating the home. One of the brothers who had trouble with his feet was sent to see a podiatrist for free, he said.
“When we take on project, it’s not just a project we get involved with the homeowners with,” he said. “They’re part of a family. Once we get in there, they’re really part of a family.”
Not a coincidence
When the brothers first heard about the project, they hugged, Ray said.
The immense act of generosity surprised the brothers. Ray said he felt like it hasn’t hit him yet that people are coming forward to transform their home anew.
“I think we’re coming to the realization this is really happening, and people really care about us, and I’m not sure why,” Ray said with a shaky voice.
He didn’t think their living conditions were that bad, but he also thought about how people in survival mode don’t realize what they’re going through until they reflect on it. Now with the home being rebuilt, the brothers think they will get back into their old hobbies again. For Ray, that means gardening and hydroponics.
He doesn’t think this was all a coincidence.
“There is a higher power and that’s what’s bringing all this together,” he said. “I think sometimes it’s interesting to notice some connections.”
To donate to the project, visit sharefestnewlenox.com or call Cheney at 815-717-2614.