From the beige recliner in his living room, Richard Overton, America’s oldest World War II veteran, said it felt good to have the home he’s lived in for nearly 70 years renovated with much-needed repairs.
The Meals on Wheels Central Texas’ home repair program, which is a partnership with the Home Depot Foundation, provided updates this summer to Overton’s home that will allow him to continue living in the East Austin house on the street that now bears his name. On Thursday, the 111-year-old veteran opened his doors to reporters for a tour of the renovations.
Overton no longer has the decades-worn carpet filled with allergens that also was a tripping hazard. “It was a cheap rug that had been there about 40 years,” he said.
Although Overton’s house had window air conditioning units, he now enjoys central air and heating, as well as updated ceiling fans. Old gas furnaces found in the house, according to Charles Cloutman, vice president for the home repair program, were dangerous and could have killed him with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Other repairs included removing the old bathtub, toilet and sink and replacing them with a roll-in shower and accessible toilet. “I love it!” Overton said.
Texas Gas Service replaced Overton’s water heater, stove and vent hood, and doors were widened to improve accessibility.
“It’s like a brand-new house,” said Overton’s longtime friend Martin Wilford. “It means a lot to me that this happened. He deserves every bit of it — somebody who fought in Pearl Harbor. It’s a great blessing.”
Shortly after the repairs were completed this summer, Overton was hospitalized with pneumonia and an August tour of the house was postponed. These days, Overton’s caregivers said he’s getting stronger, although he’s now limited to hanging out on his beloved front porch for only 20 minutes daily until he gains his full strength.
“I’m going to try to live (my life) the best I can,” Overton said.
He’s still enjoying smoking his cigars and by 10 a.m. Thursday he said he had already smoked about three of them. “But I don’t inhale,” he pointed out.
In April, the Austin City Council passed a resolution to give Hamilton Avenue the honorary street name Richard Overton Avenue. Overton has become a national public figure and has met celebrities and politicians such as President Barack Obama.
Last year, Overton’s family launched a GoFundMe page to hire round-the-clock home health care to keep the veteran living in his home. More than $200,000 in donations have poured in from across the country since December, and the latest funding goal is $250,000.
“To be able to repair the home of the oldest living veteran was an honor and a privilege,” said Adam Hauser, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Central Texas. “Obviously Mr. Overton sacrificed a lot in service to our country, and we’re happy to now be able to serve him … and help him age in the place where he’s most comfortable.”
To donate for Richard Overton’s care, visit gofundme.com/Help-Richard-Overton.