For the first time, a Blacksburg couple has hot water and indoor plumbing at home, thanks to the efforts of several Northern Virginians and their fraternity brothers.
"Project Good Neighbor" recently ended successfully for McLean natives Scott Carpenter, Joe Marts and Steve Halsey, Rob Cook of Vienna and their Sigma Nu brothers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg. It followed a year and a half of fund-raising, digging, building and--most of all--caring.
The success was even sweeter for Roy Marshall, 77, and his wife Jane, 67. After 30 years of living in this Blue Ridge Mountains town, the Marshalls have the plumbing facilities most Americans take for granted.
"Everyone in the (fraternity) house became involved, so it was like a family helping an unfortunate family," said Carpenter, an O'Connell High School graduate who was graduated from VPI last year and works in Richmond as an auditor. "The support within our house was super."
"We wanted to show that fraternities can do a lot of good things," said Langley High graduate Halsey, now a senior majoring in political science at VPI. "And we had become familiar with Roy and Jane's situation. They really needed someone's help."
"The best thing about it was seeing the change in Roy and Jane that took place," said Cook, a senior industrial-engineering student and alumnus of Oakton High School.
Marts, a Landon School graduate and a VPI senior majoring in biology, contributed some plumbing know-how and did a lot of digging.
"Many fraternities donate to charities, which is great, but they never see where their money goes," said Sigma Nu Commander Paul Ungrady, a senior business student. "This made the whole thing a lot more satisfying."
The Marshalls used to make a daily trek to a neighbor's house to fill a five-gallon pail with hot water for cleaning and cooking. They also walked 40 yards to an outhouse in their back yard.
The project began in the fall of 1980 when John Tisdale, a neighbor of the Marshalls while he attended VPI, persuaded some of his Sigma Nu buddies to help him fix up their house. The group installed heaters, rebuilt the chimney, laid carpeting, repaired the coal stove, did some yard work and, in the process, brought the couple needed companionship.
Later, the whole fraternity backed the idea of installing a bathroom and hot running water in the Marshalls' house. "Project Good Neighbor" was born.
Through a benefit dance and donations of money and equipment from area businesses and organizations, Sigma Nu was able to to complete the work on the house, with enough money left over to start a fund to help other elderly residents.
Money and materials in hand, Halsey, Cook and Marts joined some 30 other Sigma Nu brothers who started digging in mid-December--despite the Blacksburg winter weather--in the hope of giving Roy and Jane a unique Christmas present.
The recent cold wave allowed the Marshalls to repay the couple who had shared their hot water through the years. The neighbors' pipes froze while the Marshalls' pipes did not, so the Marshalls invited the neighbors to use their hot water.