Gilbert Pfisterer moves into his newly renovated home

Published 7:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2017

Thursday afternoon the culmination of months of volunteer efforts and organization by a Hancock County man led to 91-year-old Gilbert Pfisterer leaving a rundown mobile home in the Nicholson area to take up residence in a newly renovated Habitat for Humanity home in the center of Picayune.

Not only has he found a home where the floors are stable, the doorframes don’t leak when it rains and the hot water heater works, he’s learned that there are people in Hancock and Pearl River counties that care about his well-being.

That lesson started as a chance encounter with Matt Ladner back in August when Ladner was on his way to work. That fateful day occurred when Ladner saw a stranger having car trouble. It’s a common occurrence, but what turned Ladner around was that the stranger walked with a limp, and was up in years.

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Ladner said that had he passed that exact same area 10 seconds earlier or later to see Pfisterer limping, he would not have turned around to help.

Later, Ladner would see Pfisterer’s living conditions, attempt to conduct repairs, but after learning it was a rental, his focus shifted to finding a new place for the soon to be 92-year-old former Merchant Marine to live.

That shift led him to contact Habitat for Humanity Bay-Waveland, who had a home in Pearl River County that, after some renovations, would be much more suitable.

After being given the keys to his new home, Pfisterer expressed his gratitude to those who stepped up to help.

He said the whole experience of meeting Ladner was one of the strangest experiences he’s had, and the plethora of donations and assistance was certainly nothing he would ever have asked for. In the past, most of the people he had met were more interested in ripping him off than helping him up, Pfisterer said. Pfisterer said meeting Ladner had to be part of God’s plan.

“It almost restores my faith in humanity,” Pfisterer said.

Ladner said that it was learning his life story that prompted him to go beyond just helping a stranded motorist. Pfisterer spent more than 40 years serving in the Merchant Marines, beginning during the end of World War II. His service would include the Korean and Vietnam wars and several conflicts, bringing him to dozens of countries.

“I’ve led a long and strange life,” Pfisterer said. “No one can choose the cards you are dealt in life, you only have discretion in how you play them.”

He also worked for two years with the Army Transport, but has not been able to receive benefits for that time. But State Representative Stacey Wilkes said she is working with Congressman Steven Palazzo’s office to fix that. They hope to know a final outcome by the end of the month.

To bring him to his new home took a lot of work, that of volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, and community members in the two counties. Just some of those people include Wendi Mims who constructed a coffee table and two end tables, Wilkes who also donated a lift chair, Nikhil Ajmera who provided a new bed and more than a dozen contract workers who at times got paid, but most of the time didn’t.

Angela Eastin of Habitat For Humanity Bay-Waveland estimates more than 280 work hours went into preparing the home for Pfisterer. Of the materials and labor, about 60 percent was donated.

A last minute donation filled in the final need for the house, a new washer and dryer.  Thursday, the Knights of Columbus Post 6842 Ladies Auxiliary provided a $1,000 check from funds raised via a recent public dance, said Christine Heck, Vice President of Ladies Auxiliary. That money will be used to buy those needed appliances.