Kenny Drangstveit used his carpentering skills to build houses for Habitat for more than twenty years and he is an inspiration in the eyes of many. Kenny and his wife, Helen, welcomed us into their beautiful home, which he helped build, to share his Habitat journey and some of his memorable moments.
Kenny began in construction by working for his dad in fifth grade. He’s been building things ever since. Kenny has also given back to his country by serving in the military during WWII. Kenny got involved with Habitat through his church in 1991. He was an active member in the Dakota County Crew, which got nicknamed the Dakota Tuesday Crew, because they volunteered every week on Tuesday. Their crew has expanded to around thirty people from all over the Twin Cities and now volunteer Tuesdays and Thursdays. Kenny was the crew leader for many years and retired from volunteering in 2013 at the age of 91. In total, Kenny worked on 220 houses for Habitat.
As Kenny got older he could no longer drive because of his Startle Syndrome. For most people this would have also meant no longer volunteering. Kenny is not like most people. His friends on the crew were more than willing to help him get to the house builds. He would joke with the guys that would drive him out to site by saying “Well if you’re going to drive like that I better put my seatbelt on.” Kenny was a dedicated leader for the crew and hand wrote all of the records and volunteer logs; he would call his three-ring binder where he held all of the information his laptop.
One his favorite memories was when another volunteer, Roland Anderson, and him were able to visit one of the first houses he had ever worked on:
One time Roland and I were working on a place in St. Paul. It wasn’t too far from one of the first houses that I have ever worked on. This house was right near where we were working. So we stopped there and she [homeowner] was just so nice to us. She showed us all the way into the house and the house was just spotless. You swore she knew we were coming. In our conversation we found out her 11-year-old son when we built the house was going to be retiring from the Marines in a few days. It was that many years after. And once we left there she gave us some cookies wrapped individually. Have you ever seen cookies wrapped individually?
He got along with everyone. Before Kenny started volunteering he was a contractor and due to his experience he had a knack for figuring out what everyone was capable of doing and assigning jobs. He said if people weren’t as qualified to work on a house they would fit them in some way or another.
Kenny and Helen not only gave back locally in Minnesota, but were able to work on a total of five Jimmy Carter builds taking place in Eagle Butte, South Dakota; Vác, Hungary; Pikeville, Kentucky; Houston, Texas; and Americus, Georgia.
First time I got involved with him [Jimmy Carter] was in Vac, Hungary. We built a house there, it was a Jimmy Carter house. At the very end of the build, we built houses that had very little porches on the front. They had small posts and the posts were covered. At the very end, Jimmy Carter said that we should have little boards run on the bottom of each post to make it look finished. Everybody called them Carter blocks. Anyways we got our Carter blocks done at our house and Jimmy Carter himself was working on the house right back to back from ours. There was just a lawn area separating the two houses. When he was going to make his blocks he came to find out that people picked up all the tools at his house; he did not have a saw. He came over to our house and we still had some tools there and asked if he could use our saw to make those blocks. We said sure, so we handed him the saw. He was trying to put angle cuts on the top of the blocks and I saw he was having a little trouble so I said, ‘here let me help you.’ So I held the block for him while he made the cuts. That was when I first met Jimmy Carter.
Kenny’s Habitat experience has a made a big impact on his life and on countless others through the homes he helped build. When we asked him what was it that kept him coming back all these years he smiled and said “my love.” Kenny had a love for the work he was doing, the people he was helping, and the crew he was working alongside. When volunteers have been with us for as long as Kenny has been with us, it’s important that we listen to and share their stories. Kenny’s dedication and support to Habitat inspires us all to keep building towards our goal and make affordable housing available to all.