‘These guys are the best’: Island Lake Army vet gets solution to a leaking roof

After snow last week delayed the first attempt, an experienced crew arrived early Monday to beat the solar eclipse and install new roofs on Robin Waltrip's house and garage.

The roof replacement itself was straightforward and simple. But to the Island Lake Army veteran who lives on a fixed income, the effort by Owens Corning and Feldco was as big as it gets.

Smiling and thankful, the former drill sergeant watched as old shingles were quickly shed en route to a leak-free home for the first time in three years.

“I was focused on my husband and we couldn't afford it,” Waltrip explained. “He couldn't work anymore and we were living on our savings.”

Her husband, Clifton, died two years ago.

“Everyone needs to know about this. He would have loved it,” she said Monday morning as the project progressed quickly.

Shortly after Clifton died, a chance meeting at a grocery store connected Waltrip with the Veterans Path to Hope, a Crystal Lake nonprofit that provides assistance and resources to vets in need.

Waltrip's roof issues eventually became known during one of the group's weekly meetings.

“I was telling them how my roof is leaking and it's expensive,” she said. “In the living room it's not too bad, but if it rains really hard it comes through the (kitchen) fan.”

The vets group said it would see what could be done.

The Owens Corning Foundation through its Roof Deployment Project provides materials and Feldco, as its platinum roofing contractor program, supplies the labor. Waltrip was selected through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of McHenry County.

Besides its well-known homeownership program, Habitat also provides critical repairs to keep people in their homes, said Dorian Hare, the organization's events and marketing manager.

“When they called and said I qualified, I did cry,” Waltrip said, tearing up at what was unfolding Monday. “It's my honor. These guys are the best.”

Owens Corning has replaced more than 500 roofs for military members throughout the country since the program began in 2016, said Erin Gnutek, senior area sales manager. That includes several in McHenry County, though this was the first of the year.

“Many times, they're (veterans) not willing to ask for help,” Gnutek said.

Tim Lengel, Feldco's director of business development, estimated the value of the job at $13,000 to $15,000.

Waltrip, a Texas native, enlisted in the Women's Army Corps in 1976 and specialized in heavy equipment “because I knew how to drive a car,” she joked. She drove and repaired bulldozers, fork lifts and other equipment at Fort Hood in Texas.

She said she spent five years on active duty and in 1987 became a drill sergeant in a reserve unit deploying where needed. She held that position until retiring in 2004, she said.

“It's like watching them grow,” she said of recruits. “When they graduate I'm proud as a peacock.”

Clifton Waltrip also was an Army veteran. The couple lived in various locales before moving to Illinois in 2013, with stops in Palatine and Carpentersville before making Island Lake home in 2017.

Waltrip said she now plans to volunteer with Habitat.

“We got you,” said Hare. “We're building houses all the time and we can always use help.”

  U.S. Army veteran Robin Waltrip, right, discusses her roof replacement project Monday with Erin Gnutek of Owens Corning. The company donated the materials and Feldco donated the labor for the project. Mick Zawislak/
  Island Lake veteran Robin Waltrip watches the progress as she gets a new roof installed through Owens Corning Roof Deployment Project. The company donated materials and Feldco the labor. Mick Zawislak/
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