Following a stint in the U.S. Army that included deployment in South Korea and Japan in 1958, Brighton’s Fred Stevenson returned to the United States in 1960 with a service-related disability and a wish to restart his life.
He was living in Little Rock, Ark., at the time where he met his future wife, Virginia “Ginger” Plyler. The two married in 1962 and had two children, a son and a daughter. Fred initially started his career in business and moved into management with a company that would become part of the Equifax Corporation.
Ginger said she knew early on that Fred had a higher calling. He earned a degree at a nearby seminary and began ministering at several Arkansas churches. In 1989 the Stevensons were transferred to Lakewood, where Fred became pastor at the Landmark Missionary Baptist Church. Fred and Ginger were transferred a few years later, this time to Texas. It was while in Texas that Fred’s health began to decline. He underwent open heart surgery, which included receiving a pacemaker. In 1999 he retired as a pastor.
Ginger had worked with the Jefferson County School District while they lived in Lakewood, so she applied for work there once again. When she was re-hired she and Fred moved to Ken Caryl. Having dealt with a diagnosis of diabetes since they had lived in Arkansas, the complications began to take a toll on Fred.
By 2008 Ginger was readying to retire, and she and Fred decided to move to the Brighton area. They originally sought to buy a ranch house but ended up buying their present two-story home because of its open floor plan and wide hallways. By 2012 Fred had undergone several surgeries resulting in the amputation of half his left foot and his right leg below the knee.
Lt. Brian Olivas with Brighton Fire Rescue and his fellow firefighters became very familiar with the Stevenson family starting several years ago. Due to his illnesses, Fred and Ginger often called on the firefighters and paramedics with the Platte Valley Ambulance Service. Over time, Fred regularly needed to be transported to local hospitals but also simply needed help after suffering falls that did not leave him injured but simply unable to get up.
Olivas recalled one evening when his engine company responded to the Stevenson home with a local ambulance. Fred used a motorized chair lift to reach the second floor. Veterans Affairs had installed the lift. While the lift served its purpose, it stopped at the top of the stairs, requiring Ginger to help her husband climb from his chair while at the edge of the stairway. On this particular evening the chair slipped backwards, and both Fred and Ginger found themselves entangled on the stairs.
As Olivas put it, firefighters are born to help but their job does not stop when the fire engine returns to the station. He knew how unsafe the chair lift was, so he wrote a letter to the V.A. on the Stevensons’ behalf, declaring it a safety hazard.
Since moving into their Brighton home, Ginger had complied a list of home repairs she felt were needed to upgrade the house and make it safer. Estimates to complete the work had run as high as $40,000. Ginger had begun saving every spare dollar, including her income tax refunds, but it only made a dent in the amount needed.
When Olivas and his fellow firefighters learned of the Stevensons’ plight, they immediately began making plans to help. Their efforts were about to take an 18-month-long journey that eventually involved scores of people from the Brighton area and a number of businesses.
“Having to rely on others is a very hard thing to do,” Ginger said. “I found myself with nowhere to turn until the firefighters and paramedics came into our lives. When I needed to call on them for help not only were they there to take care of Fred, but they came into our home and took care of me. They became my angels.”
Brian Olivas approached a manager at the Brighton Home Depot to see if they could help out with his plans to assist the Stevensons. When Home Depot learned that not only was Fred Stevenson a veteran but also a disabled veteran, they jumped on board immediately.
Earlier this year Olivas learned that Ginger had applied to the City of Brighton for assistance from Help for Homes. Brothers Redevelopment, a Denver-based service organization, coordinates Brighton’s annual Help for Homes.
With the help of volunteers from around the area, local senior citizens and disabled residents are qualified to receive assistance. They receive much-needed improvements and renovations to their homes at no cost. Brothers Redevelopment obtains materials from a grant from the Brighton Legacy Foundation and coordinates the work of the various groups with help from the Eagle View Adult Center.
By joining forces with Help for Homes and soliciting help from his fellow firefighters, Platte Valley paramedics and Home Depot, Olivas was able to expand the scope of work on the Stevensons’ home. The project became the largest effort in the nearly 10 year’s work of Help for Homes.
To improve the safety of the chair lift, the V.A. agreed to improve it by extending its reach several feet into the second floor hallway, diminishing the risk of a fall. Home Depot agreed to donate more than $3,000 worth of hardwood flooring and materials. They also recruited nearly a dozen company employees to help with the repairs and to supervise volunteers.
Olivas enlisted the help of 25 volunteers from his department who worked several days to remove existing carpet on both floors and then install new hardwood flooring. Firefighters also repaired the Stevenson’s lawn irrigation system, trimmed a number of their trees and power washed their fence for staining. They finished up their work by improving a ramp into the front of the house and constructed a second ramp to the backyard.
On the day of Help for Homes, volunteers came out en masse. They completed a number of tasks outside the home including planting new bushes, staining the fencing and preparing a garden for Ginger.
Fred has spent several weeks at an area rehabilitation center while much of the work was being completed. Ginger said he would be coming home later this week. With tears of joy filling her eyes, Ginger couldn’t say enough about all the people who volunteered to help.
“Brighton should be proud of its firefighters and paramedics. They have gone above and beyond what their job entails, she said. “We could never have afforded to pay for the work that so many people stepped in to provide us. As much as it was needed we were prepared to live with things the way they were. I can’t say enough good things about everyone who helped us.”
When he was asked to describe why he felt compelled to help out the Stevensons, Olivas was quick to respond.
“If we didn’t step up to help, who would? All it takes is for everyone to chip in a little to make big things happen,” Olivas said.
Additional information concerning Brighton’s annual Help for Homes can be reached by contacting the Sue Corbett at the Eagle View Adult Center, 303-655-2075.