148th lends a hand in Superior: Federal furlough doesn’t stop members from volunteering for HabitatMike Panula didn’t think the partial government shutdown, if it happened, would directly affect him. On Tuesday, the Lakewood Township resident learned that it did: Both he and his wife, Jami, were out of their jobs at the Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing for the indefinite future.
By: John Lundy , Duluth News Tribune
Mike Panula didn’t think the partial government shutdown, if it happened, would directly affect him.
On Tuesday, the Lakewood Township resident learned that it did: Both he and his wife, Jami, were out of their jobs at the Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing for the indefinite future.
But on Saturday, he was doing what he had planned to do before the furlough: volunteering with other members of the 148th on “Bulldog Build Day” for Habitat for Humanity.
“Tuesday, when they said, ‘Government shutdown, you guys are going home,’ I was like, ‘Oh! I wasn’t ready for that one’,” the 37-year-old Panula recalled on Saturday as he took a break from the project at Habitat’s workshop in Superior.
But Mike, who is a troubleshooter in the 148th’s engine shop, and Jami, who is head of services, were both, according to the government, “non-essential.”
That left both of them suddenly at home with their three children, ages 10, 3 and 2, and with more questions than answers.
“We don’t know if the medical insurance is still rolling; if that’s being paid for in any way, shape or form,” he said. “That’s the hard part, because you don’t know anything.”
Panula and eight or nine other volunteers from the 148th actually would have been paid for the work they did on Saturday had it not been for the shutdown, because it was part of their drill weekend. But drill weekend was canceled because of the shutdown. There would be no compensation for prebuilding a deck and shed that will grace Habitat’s latest remodeling project.
Originally, about 20 had signed up, said Ryan Ostrofsky, 33, event organizer for the 148th, known as the Bulldogs. About half were from out of town and less likely to come if it wasn’t drill weekend. Turnout also was affected by a tragedy that hit the 148th last week. Ryan Ewald, a Cloquet man who died on Sept. 28 from injuries suffered in an ATV accident, was a crew chief for the 148th. Several of his comrades were involved in setting up a fundraiser for the Ewald family on Saturday, Ostrofsky said.
But as the remaining group took a break for pizza at noon, the work was going well, he said.
“It’s a nice product of 148th members,” said Ostrofsky, who is both a tech sergeant in the 148th and owner of Rymel Construction in Superior. “They’re not scared of hard work. You got a job to do, you get in there and get it done.”
The job was made easier because it wasn’t being done in Saturday’s wind-driven rain. Daryl Yankee, executive director of Habitat for Humanity’s Western Lake Superior Chapter, presciently scheduled the project for the workshop on Broadway Street that Habitat has owned for about a year. It’s also the home of ReStore, the nonprofit’s discount home improvement shop.
The deck and shed will become part of a three-bedroom house that will be moved to 708 Weeks Ave. for a family that hasn’t yet been selected. The house probably will seem familiar to most Superior residents; it was the last one standing on the East End property that now is being developed for a new Super One grocery store. It’s the second house from the property that Miner’s Inc., which owns the grocery chain, donated to Habitat, Yankee said.
This was the second “Bulldog Build” for Habitat in as many years. Ostrofsky, an ardent Habitat volunteer, originated the idea in hopes it would spur some of his fellow Bulldogs to donate their time to the organization.
It has done that. 148th Fighter Wing members Brian Myhre and Anthony Bartlett weren’t able to participate in last year’s event. But they’ve contributed about 50 hours of time since then, said Susan Jonas, volunteer coordinator for Habitat. Both took part in Saturday’s project.
The furloughed Panula could have blown off the project, but he said he didn’t consider doing that.
“This is something that’s exciting for me,” he said. “I’m here because I want to help out a good organization.”
But he wishes Congress and the president would do their part, Panula said.
“They’re still fighting like schoolchildren up in Washington, and there’s no compromise,” he said. “Focus on the issue and get it done.”