FLOOD CLEANUP

FFA, ag teachers help flood victims in Roundup

2011-06-22T17:13:00Z 2011-06-22T18:20:14Z FFA, ag teachers help flood victims in RoundupBy LORNA THACKERAY Of The Billings Gazette The Billings Gazette

ROUNDUP -- "I feel guilty about asking anybody to do this job," Jon Eiselein said Wednesday as he watched a dozen ag teachers and Future Farmers of America members muck out the basement of his home in Roundup.

"If I was in any kind of physical shape to do it, I'd do it myself," he said.

"Yeah, it's hard to ask for help," Ole Olsen, an ag teacher from Bridger, responded while he tried to clean Musselshell River mud from the filter of a pump that Eiselein was using to get the water out of his basement. "But sometimes we all need help."

Eiselein said he has had an amazing amount of assistance since floodwaters filled his home's basement and covered the first 3 or 4 inches of his main floor in May.

People in the Roundup community just showed up with equipment. Young men from Mormon congregations in Billings came to help, as did groups from Harvest Church in the Billings Heights. On Wednesday, it was the Roundup High School FFA and volunteers from the Montana Association of Agriculture Educators.

Eiselein had about an hour's notice that the teachers and students were on their way.

"I was completely surprised," he said.

Fifty teachers from all over the state took a break from the organization's annual meeting in Forsyth to pile onto a Melstone school bus and head to Roundup to assist flood victims.

The idea for a day of service was initiated by ag teachers in Forsyth, a group known for its emphasis on lending a helping hand. President George Simmons of Forsyth said the teachers supervise FFA chapters and one of the main focuses of the student group is community service.

Teenagers wearing black T-shirts bearing the inscription "Living to Serve" worked beside the ag teachers pulling water-logged carpet, insulation and wood from Eiselein's basement. Mud splatters covered them from head to toe as they cheerfully hauled away debris.

"Community service is a major part of our curriculum," said Park City ag teacher Kari Hanson. "We set the example and they will follow."

Although the teachers had worked on service projects through FFA, this was the first time the educators as a group have interrupted their annual meeting to take on a major project.

"We got an email about a week ago," said Melissa Mack from Winifred. "It sounded like a good idea."

The volunteers set to work with only the broadest of instructions from Eiselein, who was busy helping them find the tools needed to get the job done.

"I've been worried how I was going to get this cleaned up," he said.

The house -- built from parts of three company houses moved from Klein after the mine there closed in the 1940s -- was his wife Beverly's childhood home. The couple decided to move into it in 1995 as they prepared to retire.

"When we retired we thought we'd sell the place and buy a place up in the mountains," Eiselein said. "But I fell in love with the 30-by-40 garage. I'm a car nut."

The couple knew that they were in for a flood and moved everything they could from the basement. But the river broke the old record by two feet.

"We had no idea what was coming down the river," he said. "It came so fast. When I went out to shut the power off in the garage, the ground was dry. By the time I walked back to the house it was ankle-deep. When I went to get Bev into the pickup, we were in water up to our knees."

Neighbors helped him get one of his classic cars out of the garage, but another was lost.

The Eiseleins have been living in a local motel for about three weeks and have had numerous offers from friends to move in while their house is being repaired. He thinks it will be at least Thanksgiving before the basement will be ready for the grandchildren again.

"There are so many angels in Roundup," he said.

Eiselein said that he does have flood insurance -- a requirement set by the bank that loaned him money for an addition to the house. He said FEMA disaster officials told him he was one of just 11 homeowners who had purchased the insurance.

The teachers and teenagers made good progress emptying the basement Wednesday, as Roundup ag teacher Laura Moore scurried about finding rubber gloves and face masks.

"It's about that deep and stinking," said Kim Gallagher, ag teacher from Belgrade, pointing to the calf of her rubber boot. "It's starting to get moldy. It's probably a good thing we're doing this now instead of three days from now."

While one group of teachers was working on the Eiselein house, others were picking up pipe from a damaged irrigation system at the Kilby Butte Hutterite Colony, Moore said. Brandon Braaten, ag teacher at Melstone, who was recruited to drive the bus, said teachers were helping where they could between Roundup and Melstone.

"We selected farms and ranches we could get to," he said. "There are still a lot of places underwater or inaccessible."

Lorna Thackeray can be reached at 657-1314 or lthackeray@billingsgazette.com

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