Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 11, 2013

Race, dinner send important message

The Andover Townsman

---- — As the final people finished the Run for the Troops road race on Sunday, Andover’s Jay French was marveling at the number of people who turned out for the event created by fellow resident Bill Pennington. Back in 2008, French noted, French struggled to pull off a successful dinner to support Homes for Our Troops.

“What I love about it is, in a town where we don’t have a Homes for Our Troops project, it has dedicated itself to producing one, and supporting Homes for Our Troops,” said French.

The Run for the Troops has become a great event, and a great Andover community event. But a real feel for the meaning of the race could be found at the related dinner the Friday before the race, also organized by Pennington.

During the dinner, Debbie Smith, whose husband Joe Smith of North Carolina was the face of the 2011 Run for the Troops in Andover, told the crowd just how much the effort means to injured veterans.

“Joe never had a visitor in the hospital for four years (after he was injured). He thought that nobody cared,” she said.

On race day, he and everyone present know just how much people do care. The Smiths look forward to coming to the race and dinner each year.

The support in Andover was clear to Marine Sgt. Josh Bouchard, who was the honoree for the 2012 race.

“In my mind, I still don’t expect turnouts like this. I felt like I was alone when I was injured,” said Bouchard. “To be able to cook my own food, wash my own clothes is life-changing. I didn’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had this house. I’m not just missing a leg, I’m paraplegic.”

Contractor A.J. Crane who whipped together Bouchard’s house and grounds in a matter of days with the help of many volunteers has also worked on one of TV’s Extreme Makeover homes.

“I’d do 10 of these before I’d do another one of those,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s selfish, but it’s because Josh did something for me. I can go to the park and play softball and he went over into the desert.”

To raise money for Bouchard’s home last year, people were given the chance to sign or leave messages on the wood boards that were used to frame the house. The boards and the messages remain within the home. But one board was left over when the project was finished, according to builder Brad Campbell. He swears it was not done on purpose. The piece of lumber says, “From the day you were born, you have always been a hero.” The message was from Bouchard’s mom and dad.

The workers decided to mount the piece in Bouchard’s garage, so that he would see the note whenever he pulled into his home.

A 2x4 board was sitting outside the dinner last Friday for people to sign for Kevin Dubois, who will benefit from this year’s race. That little piece of Andover will be mounted in Dubois’ garage, which will be built starting May 18. It’s something he’ll see every time he drives into the home that Andover helped build.

The messages on the lumber are tributes to the sacrifice and bravery of Dubois. And, in a small and different way, that board will be a tribute to the power that a few committed people can have in Andover and other communities, too.