Gerald Vincent, of Duncan, can't recall how many homes he has helped build over the years.
To Vincent, 87, numbers don't mean much — but people do.
What matters, he said, are the smiles on the faces of families who are provided new homes, refurbished residences and property repairs they couldn't afford or do on their own.
“We really are concerned when people are displaced when they have disasters. We're glad that we can provide a place to stay — a home for them,” Vincent said recently.
His simple philosophy is shared among other members of the Nail Benders, a group of older men including several octogenarians from First Baptist Church of Duncan.
The retirees keep busy and in shape by doing things like installing wheelchair ramps for homeowners who need easier accessibility. The 80-somethings also install windows and doors, refurbish mobile homes, make household repairs and help build houses from the ground up.
“None of us go to the gym or anything,” said Damon Phillips, 81, the group's crew chief.
“We get our exercise helping others. It's a great way to serve the Lord.”
‘We don't back away'
The Nail Benders recently converged on the community of Little Axe to refurbish a mobile home for a victim of the May 2013 tornadoes. The resident's trailer survived the storms, but leaks from the heavy rains resulted in black mold that made for unsuitable living conditions.
Phillips said most of the Nail Benders, like Vincent, started out as Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers. At one time, the group, which is still affiliated with Baptist Disaster Relief, included about 15 men, but its numbers have dwindled in recent years because some members have died or have health ailments, he said. Of the four Nail Benders who worked on the Little Axe mobile home, the youngest was 69 and the oldest was Vincent, Phillips said.
Nail Benders are sponsored by their home church and do a lot of work around Duncan, Phillips said. However, he said they don't let distance stop them from aiding those in need, such as the Little Axe tornado victim. The Nail Benders also have traveled to Wyoming, Kentucky, Texas and Mississippi to help.
“We figure we're as good carpenters as they come. We don't back away from anything,” Phillips said.
Vincent said he has had some health issues with his back and had a knee replaced over the years, but he still has been able to pick up a hammer or another tool to aid a needy homeowner.
Vincent said he owned an oil field supply company in Duncan and started working with Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief in 1994, when volunteers were needed in the aftermath of an earthquake that rocked the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.
Dave Karr, training coordinator for Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief, an affiliate of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said he's grateful for the Nail Benders' servant leadership and work ethic.
“I'd like to see the younger men work alongside these older men and take advantage of their experience and learn from them,” said Karr, 70, of Norman. “I just thank God for them, and I appreciate that they are available to us.”