Marshalltown-native, Toby Huss, volunteers help at damaged homes

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY Volunteers from John Deere Co. in Des Moines, Greater Des Moines Habitat For Humanity and Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity teamed up to work on a damaged residence in the 800 block of West Main Street Friday. Joining them was Marshalltown native and actor Toby Huss, third from left. Here they work to remove debris.

“Together everyone achieves more” is an age-old adage which was clearly put into practice at a residence in the 800 block of West Main Street last week.

Volunteers from the Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity, Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity and Des Moines-area John Deere companies were joined by Marshalltown native and actor Toby Huss. They all teamed up to remove debris and make repairs resulting from the July 19 EF-3 tornado.

Marshalltown’s West and East Main Street, including the Central Business District, were hard-hit by the tornado which had wind gusts up to 144 mph.

On Friday, the team was busy removing an extensive amount of debris from the structure’s roof and second story porch, while also making a host of other repairs. Huss, a 1983 Marshalltown High School graduate now living in Los Angeles, Calif., had planned to be in town for a 35-year class reunion when news of the tornado’s wrath quickly altered plans.

Huss said he showed up at the property and was put to work by Renee Aamobt, a construction associate with the Greater Des Moines Habitat team.

“I do whatever she (Aamobt) tells me to do,” he said with a smile. “Earlier we removed the porch roof from this house that landed on the garage,” Huss said.

“And, we re-installed tarp on a damaged section on the house roof while making porch repairs too,” Aamobt said.

Huss said he was saddened by the overwhelming loss of trees throughout a multi-mile area, many uprooted from the tornado’s fury.

“It will take 100 years for the tree situation to recover,” Huss said. “It is so sad.”

Aamobt said the Greater Des Moines Habitat team arrived July 23, and as of Friday, had put in five work-filled days at many residences.

“We came in on Main Street, and it was sobering, definitely sobering,” Aamobt said. “Seeing all of these damaged old and beautiful houses … the history … it gives one a perspective on life.”

The Northwestern College (Orange City) graduate said she had met many John Deere and Marshalltown volunteers.

“I am extremely impressed with John Deere and local volunteers. The company has been sending a bus load of volunteers to Marshalltown every day,” she said. “I met a (local) woman with Big Brothers Big Sisters who lives in the country … she was checking on families whose homes were damaged, some had been displaced and moved into motels or with extended family.”

Aamobt said she has been on disaster relief teams in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

“Fortunately we are not dealing with water and mold here, but some of the devastation is similar,” she said. “It will be a long recovery for Marshalltown.”

Aamobt said she decided to become active with Habitat after serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer.

“I wanted to use my hands, and after four years of college. I need a break from academia … I am interested in renovation. Our (Habitat) work is necessary, as we are helping people who need it. They don’t have the tools or resources.”

Aamobt said it was unclear if the Des Moines Habitat team would return to Marshalltown this week.

The Greater Des Moines and Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity teams are volunteer-based, non-governmental organizations which have impressive track records of making home ownership possible for a significant number of low-income residents, among other services.

The Des Moines Habitat group celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, according to its Facebook page.

For more information, telephone 515-471-8660, or info@gdmhabitat.org.

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com