Class and community raise the roof

Staff writer

Richard Riggs of Florence knew he had a leaky roof. He had the materials to put a new metal one on the old two-story house he lives in south of Florence with his wife Raquel.

What Riggs didn’t know was that he wouldn’t be doing the roof himself. A little over a month ago Riggs discovered that he had cancer.

Word about an illness gets out fast in small towns, and Riggs’ neighbor, Sarah Cope, was talking with his mother-in-law, Linda Allison, on the phone when she asked what people could do to help. Allison mentioned the roof.

“My wife heard he needed something done,” Clint Cope said. She said we need to make that happen. I said I didn’t know how to do anything like this — I’ll call Eric Moore.”

Calls started going out, including one to Steve Higgins, who was a classmate of Riggs’ from the Marion High School class of 1977.

“I came down to see Richard, and he wasn’t doing well,” Higgins said. “I asked if it would be all right with him if I contacted the rest of the class.”

Higgins has been the unofficial class secretary over the years, keeping track of where all his classmates are and what they’re doing. He sent emails and made phone calls recruiting people to come help.

“I started as getting people from Colorado (Yvonne Heidel Sauder) and Nebraska (Jay Wealand) to come,” Higgins said.

Classmates, friends, and neighbors arrived early Friday morning and worked until sundown, then started again Saturday. Moore was surprised by the number of people.

“I just called people and went from there,” Moore said. “It kind of got a little bigger than I thought it would, they’re good help, and I’m glad they came.”

The workers were aided by heavy equipment brought in by Davey Hett and Eldon Hett, and fed through the coordinated efforts of Rhonda Hett and Kathy Inlow, with some assistance from Wanda Eilts.

“I’ve known Richard since kindergarten,” said Eilts, who drove from Benton to be there Saturday. “It’s not only family, but community. It’s a nice renewal to see that spirit still around. It’s just that small town spirit.”

Of the 30 people who worked for two days to put on the roof, half were Riggs’ classmates, and half were friends and neighbors. Others stopped by to lend encouragement.

Riggs started chemotherapy last week, but neither that nor his cancer could stop him from spending a little time outdoors with his friends.

“Richard was out there for a bit and he had a smile on his face the whole time,” Cope said.

“He came out, sat with us, we had some photographs taken,” Higgins said.

They topped off the roof with lightning rods about 7 p.m. Saturday, and as cleanup began, Davey Hett reflected on what had happened at the Riggs farm.

“It was just like the old time barn raising,” Hett said. “It was something great that was done that wasn’t affiliated with any one organization. It was just people coming together because we wanted to do good.

Hett paused a moment, then added, “We’re very glad we got to share our lives with Richard Riggs. And Richard would’ve done the same for us.”

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