‘Gene’s not going anywhere’: Community helps WWII vet stay in Orange home

  • Tom Mann at T.S. Mann Lumber Co. crafted four raised garden beds for 93-year-old U.S. Navy veteran Eugene Litchfield of Orange. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

  • Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

  • Community members volunteered their time and effort to make U.S. Navy veteran Eugene Litchfield’s house wheelchair accessible. This is a newly-built ramp behind his East River Street house in Orange. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

  • U.S. Navy veteran Eugene Litchfield, 93. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

  • U.S. Navy veteran Eugene Litchfield, 93, tests out his electric wheelchair on his newly built ramp at his home on East River Street in Orange on Thursday morning. Litchfield recently fell in a backyard garden that he shares with a neighbor and was considering senior housing until community members stepped up. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2021 7:28:27 PM

ORANGE — Eugene Litchfield moved into his East River Street home on June 15, 1955. Since that time, he raised his children, grew old with his wife and logged countless memories. It’s going to take a lot more than some mobility issues to have him throw in the towel now.

Volunteers from the community spent this week making the home wheelchair accessible and more convenient for a 93-year-old man. Paul Anderson, owner of Trail Head Outfitters and General Store in Orange, spearheaded an effort to help Litchfield stay in the house he loves. Residents and businesses donated and contributed time and supplies to make the mission a reality.

“You can’t say enough about the local businesses here. And the one thing we want to try to promote for the businesses is these are little businesses that care,” Anderson said in Litchfield’s backyard Thursday morning as volunteers tinkered away inside the house. “I didn’t see Walmart running out to try and help. I didn’t see any of these big-box stores. These little guys are the ones that care about the community.

“These are all volunteers,” he said. “These are just neighbors and people who live in town.”

Litchfield, a U.S. Navy veteran who grew up in Orange and served in World War II and the Korean War, said community members have been unbelievably generous.

“People have been really, really good,” he said.

Volunteers built ramps to Litchfield’s front and back doors, and a new washing machine and dryer are being installed. Tom Mann at T.S. Mann Lumber Co. crafted four raised garden beds Litchfield can cruise up to in his new electric wheelchair donated by REquipment, a durable medical equipment reuse program offering free refurbished wheelchairs, scooters and shower chairs to Massachusetts residents.

“This thing’ll stop on a dime and give you 9 cents’ change,” Litchfield said while taking the wheelchair for a spin. “It’s quite a unit, no two ways about it.”

Anderson explained he knows Litchfield, who’s now a widower, from his own work with the local senior center. Anderson said Litchfield recently fell in the backyard garden he shares with a neighbor, who rescued him. Litchfield then visited the Orange Police Department, where Litchfield’s wife, Brenda, works as an administrative assistant, to inquire about senior housing. Brenda Anderson relayed this story to her husband, a fellow Navy veteran, when she got home.

“I said, ‘Nope, Gene’s not going anywhere. He’s going to stay right here. We’ll rebuild his house,’” he recalled. “And that’s how it came about. And I just started making calls and contacted everyone and said, ‘This is what we’re trying to do. You want to play?’”

He said contractors and businesses offered materials for free or at a cost. Hamshaw Lumber supplied wood, Mallet Roll Off Dumpster Service dropped off a Dumpster, and Cool Commodes donated a portable toilet. Anderson said T.S. Mann Lumber built the raised garden beds and Gelinas Waste Recycle Landscape was expected to soon fill them with soil and plants. Also, Noël’s Nursery was planning to beautify the house’s front section.

Mark Lussier, an Army veteran who later worked as a civilian employee for the U.S. Navy for 15 years, said he didn’t know Litchfield or Anderson, but offered to help after his wife read about the project online.

“I’m retired, so I got time. I’ll do whatever,” he said. “If people need help, do what you can do.”

Random people have routinely stopped by the house to drop off supplies, food and cold drinks. The handful of volunteers working Thursday morning stopped around noon for a hamburger lunch on the grill.

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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