Contractors across state pitch in to help family
SHELTON >> Pete Whaley often asks, “Why me?”
It’s not because of the adversity he has faced in the last six years, but what he did to deserve the outpouring of love and help he’s received in tough times.
In a move led by Jen Ryan, operations, sales and marketing rep with supply company, Shelton Winnelson, contractors and others are rallying to help Whaley renovate a tiny fixer-upper he bought six years ago, but hasn’t had the money to repair because of life hardships.
Whaley’s plight was brought to Ryan’s attention by plumbing contractor Bruce Stevenson, who lives next door to the house needing renovation.
“I just knew this guy really needed help and we were capable of helping,” Ryan said.
When Whaley told Ryan that others deserve the assistance more, because at least he owns the house that needs fixing and another he lives in, Ryan told Whaley to “‘swallow your pride,’” he said, because he must deserve it for having done something right in his life.
In other words, Ryan said, it’s “karma.”
Volunteers have donated services and goods, including laying concrete, a heating and air conditioning system, lumber, labor and installations.
But they are now at a juncture.
To move to the next step and complete renovations, windows need to be installed, at a price tag of about $17,000. Ryan has started a page at gofundme.com/petes-project to raise money for the windows. Anyone who wants to assist can also email Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whaley, who always helped others when he had the money, said he sometimes pulls over when driving just to cry because he’s so touched by the generosity of the donors.
“Whatever has been done, (in fixing the house), it’s brought me back to life,” Whaley said.
“Some people don’t even own a house. I feel fortunate,” Whaley said.
Whaley, who has owned Renaissance Painting and Remodeling since 1975, said he worked hard and had it all: a great wife, who was his childhood sweetheart; two daughters; a house in Shelton, money in the bank, and no debt.
Then life took a terrible twist.
In 2010 he bought a tiny house around the corner from his own home for his daughter and son-in-law and their two young children. It was a fixer-upper and they gutted it.
But the next year, tragedy struck. His son-in-law fell ill and died at age 33 of cancer.
Then the family was hit again.
While his son-in-law was hospitalized, Whaley’s wife, Debra, fell ill. She had surgery and there were complications that only got worse. She became wheelchair-bound, required tests and treatment in other states, and would face many more hospitalizations.
Today she has chronic nausea, little energy and dangerously passes out without warning.
The Whaleys’ daughter and grandchildren moved in with them into their first house after the son-in-law’s death and the tiny gutted house around the corner just sat with no repairs.
Whaley said he couldn’t leave his wife’s side through the multiple hospitalizations, including out of state, and he had to step back from his once-thriving business to care for her.
The couple, married 42 years, went through their savings to pay bills and are now in debt.
“It’s an overwhelming debt, a debt I’ll never clear,” he said.
Of his wife, Whaley says, “She’s the most caring person in the whole world. ... It pains me to see how hard she fights. I couldn’t leave her side.”
After his son-in-law’s death four days before Christmas, they hoped to move to the tiny house and let their daughter and grandchildren stay in the other home. The gutted house is more manageable and one floor, as steps are dangerous for Debra. She also needs some rest from the hustle and bustle of living with others, Whaley said.
But they were out of money and hours in the day to renovate. Their current house, also small, is a ranch, but the laundry and other key areas for Debra are downstairs.
ADVERSITY BRINGS HELP
The help of Ryan and contractors was actually born out of a blight complaint.
Whaley said he was at the gutted house one day this summer when a city official showed up to tell him if he didn’t resume working on the house the following month, he would face a $1,000-per-month fine.
After the official left, neighbor Stevenson started chatting with Whaley, who apologized for the mess and began telling him of his ordeal.
It would turn out that blight warning was the best thing to happen to him because Stevenson, who does business with Shelton Winnelson, told Ryan, who always tries to help a person in need. She went into action, telling contractors of his plight.
Other contractors who have donated help include: Rick’s Plumbing Service of Milford; Suzio York Hill of New Haven; Bobby Mars of Milford; Essex Winair, president Ernest Nunzianto; Thomaston Comfort Control, owned by Michael Pinette; Westbridge Inc., a charity organization of contractors in Fairfield; Craig W. Corey Plumbing & Heating of Milford; Afb Plumbing & Heating of Stratford; Michael Tadduni Plumbing and Heating, and Hocon Gas.