It was as if angels had descended in southeast Columbus.

Almost 20 caring souls arrived to assist Rita Crubaugh, a disabled woman who had previously overcome even bigger obstacles as a single mom of six children.

During Friday’s rescheduled United Way Day of Caring project, Crubaugh saw deteriorating underground water pipes replaced, areas of her yard manicured, deteriorating siding replaced and her furnace repaired.

For free.

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In addition, plans have been moved up to replace Crubaugh’s roof and windows at 2201 Ohio St. later this year.

Although it was one of several projects postponed a week by rain and flooding, nowhere was the spirit of the Day of Caring more evident, said Mark Stewart, president of the United Way of Bartholomew County.

For volunteers from Vectren Inc., who carried out yard and exterior work as a public service project, this wasn’t just a one-day deal.

They are fulfilling a six-month commitment to assist Crubaugh that will continue for several months to come, Vectren volunteer Daryl Wetherald said.

And while Vectren may have been the designated sponsor, a number of other professionals were also donating their time, services and materials at the Ohio Street home without seeking recognition, United Way project assessor Mark Mathis said.

“Rita tugs at our heart strings,” Mathis said. “Helping people like her is a huge blessing.”

Challenges mount

In 1990, Crubaugh found herself a unemployed single mother raising six children — including one with a severe mental disability, she said.

Nevertheless, she got a degree in social services from Ivy Tech Community College and operated a licensed daycare facility in her home for 14 years, Crubaugh said.

Knowing others were in the same situation, Crubaugh said she often couldn’t bring herself to charge more than $1.50 an hour.

In 1995, she took out a $15,000 loan to repair a leaking roof, fix dilapidated cardboard walls, erect a fence and purchase a vehicle, she said.

But after taking care of loan and mortgage payments, as well as other expenses, she often had only $20 a week left to feed her children and herself, Crubaugh said.

“We ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches,” she said.

After the older children started lending a hand, Crubaugh found time to volunteer at Salvation Army and Just Friends Adult Day Services, as well as take pride in keeping up the outside appearance of her home, she said.

However, her health problems became worse. Complications with arthritis, diabetes and a chronic lung infection eventually left her disabled, Crubaugh said.

Not only were medications and supplies prohibitively expensive, but serious side effects kept forcing her back to her physician’s office, she said.

Five years ago, her furnace broke down. Since there was no money to fix it, Crubaugh began heating her home with nothing more than a kitchen stove, Mathis said.

When a broken lawn mower coupled with severe osteoarthritis prevented her from doing yard work, the grass and weeds quickly became overgrown, she said.

Nevertheless, the strong-willed and independent woman still wouldn’t consider asking for outside help, Mathis said.

Final straw

But then, Crubaugh — now in her 60s — saw her water and sewage bill jump from $18 a month to as high as $150 late last fall, Mathis said.

Many mains and service lines along Ohio Street were installed 60 to 80 years ago, Columbus Utilities director Keith Reeves said.

Crubaugh was able to prove there was an outside leak after shutting off all water service to her home for a month earlier this year, Mathis said.

At that point, a concerned neighbor contacted the United Way, which assigned volunteer case assessor Mike Brinker to review Crubaugh’s situation, Mathis said.

After learning the background, Brinker began recruiting volunteers from Vectren, as well as other businesses who usually keep their contributions quiet, Mathis said.

While one water line patch seemed to fix the problem for a month, the water bills shot back up again, he said.

And that’s what led to more than two dozen people ascending on the Ohio Street residence Friday.

Response

The 14 Vectren volunteers began replacing worn-out siding and awnings, as well as doing extensive landscaping work.

But others identified by Mathis who either showed up Friday or agreed to come if needed include:

  • R. Miller Excavating, Inc., which donated time, labor and materials to dig up the service line that is normally the homeowner’s responsibility to repair.
  • Circle R Mechanical Contractors, which ensured that Crubaugh’s long-broken furnace was fixed.
  • Frank’s Tree Service, which volunteered to take care of any trees or shrubs that hindered the work.

In addition, Columbus City Utilities also gave Crubaugh hundreds of dollars worth of relief for water that “didn’t go down the drain,” Reeves said.

While watching the flurry of work from her porch, Crubaugh said she’s amazed by the elaborate effort that was done on her behalf.

“I feel like I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up,” Crubaugh said.

Although the United Way president describes Friday’s effort as extraordinary, Stewart emphasized it’s not all that unusual.

“These types of things go on all the time, which shows what a truly wonderful community we live in,” Stewart said. “On the Day of Caring, it just gets a little more visibility.”

Day of Caring projects

One week after storms and flooding plagued the scheduled May 5 United Way Day of Caring, a dozen postponed volunteer projects — including work at Rita Crumbaugh’s residence — resumed the following Friday.

On the city’s far north side, MainSource Bank employees beautified the exterior of the airport terminal area, while Cummins Inc. volunteers headed south to clean up areas of Clifty Creek Park.

Faurecia and Toyota workers spent Friday at the county’s far west side tackling projects at Columbus Youth Camp, while Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators near Hope received a helping hand from German American Bancorp, Inc.

Pull Quote

“Rita (Crubaugh) tugs at our heart strings. Helping people like her is a huge blessing.”

— Mark Mathis, United Way of Bartholomew County project assessor

Pull Quote

“I feel like I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up.”

— Rita Crubaugh on receiving Day of Caring help

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.