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Habitat pays tribute to its founder, volunteers

POSTED: November 18, 2013 6:37 p.m.
Photo by Paul Floeckher/

Army veteran Cristal Boyles waves to the crowd, alongside her husband Larry. The couple met through their volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, and they will become Habitat homeowners through the organization’s effort to help military veterans.

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To honor a local veteran who epitomizes service to country and community, Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County had to look no further than its founder.


Habitat for Humanity saluted service men and women from all branches of the military and presented Morris Oglesby with a lifetime of service award at the second annual Habitat Military Ball at New Ebenezer Retreat Center.


“The fabric that makes an amazing veteran, it’s that man,” board of directors president Megan Thompson said, gesturing and smiling toward Oglesby.


Oglesby, 90, served in the Army in World War II as a combat engineer, and he made his living as a builder. Possibly his greatest reward, though, has come since he “retired.”


In 1996, Oglesby founded the Effingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds and renovates homes in an effort to eliminate sub-standard housing. Effingham Habitat resource director George Groce presented a plaque to Oglesby honoring him for “a lifetime of dedicated service to his Lord, his nation and the families of Effingham County.”


“This award is for each one of you,” Oglesby told the audience. “I didn’t build houses by myself. Each one of you is part of this award, and I’m thankful for and appreciate you in my life.”

Oglesby helped recognize someone who has been alongside him for many building projects in Effingham. Longtime Habitat volunteer Richard Wilt, received the first Morris W. Oglesby Lifetime of Service Award.


“Richard has been one of the faithful servants of Habitat,” Oglesby said.


Wilt is one of Habitat’s construction supervisors. Groce called him a “blessing,” not only for the work he puts into the Effingham chapter but also for the “special way” he interacts with Habitat homeowner families at work sites.


“When you’re around a bunch of volunteers and construction workers, a lot of times the family kind of gets pushed to the back side,” Groce said, “and Richard has always made our families feel welcomed at job sites.”


Glenn Deaton was honored as the Volunteer of the Year.  Groce thanked Deaton for all the hours he has put into Habitat projects, especially while Witt has been undergoing cancer treatment.


“We have really missed Richard out on the job sites, and so we were blessed when we got Glenn,” he said.


Prior to the award presentations, Groce highlighted Oglesby’s military service and several of Oglesby’s family members talked about the difference he has made to them and others.


“A master carpenter, he’s used his skills to serve his country, to serve his community, to serve his family — an example for all of us to live by,” said his nephew Ron Harden. “You couldn’t have chosen a more dedicated person and more loyal person and more deserving person than Morris Ogelsby for this award tonight.”


Groce, who retired from the Air Force, explained that Oglesby was putting his construction skills to use for the military even before he served in the Army. As a civilian, Oglesby helped build military installations, including Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi and Fort Rucker in Alabama.


Another project took him to south Georgia, where he met the woman who became his wife. Morris and Maxine Oglesby will celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary Thursday.


“Probably his best assignment was down at Moody Field,” Groce said. “He met a young lady named Maxine over there.”


Oglesby continued to build for the military after he was drafted in 1942 by the Army Air Corps. He was assigned to the 873rd Airborne Combat Engineers.


“Those are the people who do anything to get the troops to where they’re going,” Groce said of combat engineers. “They built roads, airstrips, medical facilities, barracks, whatever was needed for them to be successful.”


Oglesby served on 13 different islands in the Philippines and New Guinea during World War II, Groce said. He was stationed at Guadalcanal, where U.S. and allied troops defeated the Japanese in a six-month campaign that was the turning point of the Pacific war.


Following the landing on “The ‘Canal,” “they built an airstrip the following day, and actually had P-38s, P-39s and P-40s (fighter planes) on that airfield two days after defeating the Japanese,” Groce said of the battle for Henderson Field.


Although many kind words were said throughout the night about Habitat of Effingham’s founder, his son-in-law Parker Cates pointed out that Oglesby has never sought recognition. His focus is simply to help as many people as he can through Habitat for Humanity.


“This tonight really has very little to do with honoring this man,” Cates said. “He’s here to try to build Habitat.


“It’s not about him — never has been.”

More on Morris
A story spotlighting Morris Oglesby and his contributions to the Effingham County community will appear in the Herald’s special Countywide edition on Nov. 26.

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