Derek Gagne, center, listens as construction coordinator Mark Benovetz briefs him about the progress of the remodeling work on his home. Gagne was severely injured in 2006 when his Humvee was blown up in Iraq. Volunteers from here and around the country converged on his Menominee home Wednesday. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
Derek Gagne, center, listens as construction coordinator Mark Benovetz briefs him about the progress of the remodeling work on his home. Gagne was severely injured in 2006 when his Humvee was blown up in Iraq. Volunteers from here and around the country converged on his Menominee home Wednesday. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
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MENOMINEE - An army of volunteer construction workers invaded Menominee Wednesday. Their target - the home of Derek Gagne at 910 6th Ave.

With almost military-like precision they picked up their hammers and saws and went about their mission: To make Gagne's home the best it could be.

Gagne, a veteran of the Iraq War, was severely injured when his Humvee was blown up in 2006. He lost his right leg below the knee, half his left foot and sight in one eye. He was treated at Walter Reed Hospital and now has a prosthetic leg.

One thing he has never lost is his passion for life. "He is the epitome of what an American soldier is all about," said Mark Benovetz, president of Rebuilding Together of Green Bay. "He could have quit and given up but he never did."

Benovetz helped coordinate the Herculean effort. "We couldn't do it without the help of all the great people in this community," he said.

A laundry list of volunteers showed up to help - from the carpenters union Local 1146 which put up drywall, layed carpeting and built the stairs to electricians with Local 158 who rewired the entire house.

One of the key construction coordinators was Bill Getchell of Menominee.

"Getchell Builders has really been instrumental in pulling this all together," said Vanessa Georgeson, associate director of Veteran's Housing in Washington, D.C.

Getchell and his crew did a lot of the work on the roofing and garage and also supplied key machinery.

What happened Wednesday was a way for people to thank Gagne who nearly paid the ultimate price. Two of his best friends did.

Work on the old two-story, wood-frame house has been going on in spurts for the past year. A little work on the inside, new windows, the addition of a ramp on the outside and the house was beginning to feel more like a home.

"It's awesome. It's just amazing to see how much people care," said Gagne. "It makes me feel appreciated, it's awesome."

Gagne said the ramp was really helped him this past winter and that he had less snow to shovel. Improvements were also made to other parts of the house. "The bathroom is awesome. There's more room and it's easier to get around," he beamed. "I don't have to worry about hitting something here or hitting something there."

In recent weeks, roofers have replaced every inch of the battered and curled shingles, a foundation was laid for a new garage and the framing for it was put in. The walls went up earlier this week and volunteers from the Menominee Fire Department poured their hearts into making sure the job got done, including siding and insulation.

Don Machalk and Son Fencing from Stephenson donated a brand new wooden fence and then sweated in the hot sun ensuring each section was as straight as a soldier at attention.
Gagne's home also has all new plumbing, all new wiring and all new appliances.

Volunteers from Menominee, Green Bay and throughout northeast Wisconsin and the U.P. lent a hand. U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak of Menominee hand delivered a U.S. flag on Tuesday that was flown in Gagne's honor over the U.S. capital.

In addition to all the physical work on the house, Sears provided all new appliances including a stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer. A new bedroom set and living room furniture also arrived on Wednesday.

Coming in Friday's edition, we'll have more on the volunteer effort including a special guest appearance by Paige Hemmis, the host of ABC TVs "Extreme Home Makeover: Home Edition."