Veteran joins forces with Home Depot volunteers to refurbish Lisle museum campus
At the end of a long day, Don Smith likes to take a moment and bask in the pride of hard labor.
He's done that wherever he's recruited volunteers to beautify areas of Lisle with paint, flowers and sweat.
"It's satisfying when you look back and see what people accomplish," Smith says.
For the better part of a decade, Smith has been securing thousands of dollars in grants from the Home Depot Foundation for improvement projects around the village. Home Depot employees then give of their own time carrying out Smith's vision.
Their work can be seen in the renovated homes of veterans, a lakeside park at Benedictine University and an outdoor deck built for Lisle VFW Post No. 5696.
More recently, Smith and about 130 Home Depot employees, neighbors and village officials spent a day last week refurbishing the grounds of the Museums at Lisle Station Park, a campus that celebrates the village's railroad history and recreates 19th century life.
"He has amazing energy," Lisle Trustee Cathy Cawiezel said of Smith. "He's a perfectionist, and he's just always, always looking for opportunities to make somebody's life better through these grants."
Ask him about the motivating force behind the projects, and Smith simply says it's his "way of giving back."
"I was in Vietnam for 15½ months, and I got home standing upright, so I'm thankful for that," he said.
Smith doesn't open up about his service in the 68th Assault Helicopter Company. He also keeps his role behind the scenes, laying the groundwork for Home Depot crews, close to the vest.
"It's amazing to watch so much get accomplished in one day because of the many hands involved, but I don't think anybody has any inkling of how much advanced work goes into this," Cawiezel said.
Smith completes the grant application process, identifies and acquires building materials, enlists volunteers and ensures they're fed breakfast and lunch. About 25 restaurants contributed a feast akin to a "Taste of Lisle" for those lending a hand at the museum campus.
"It involves a lot of moving parts," Smith said.
Smith also worked with the Lisle Heritage Society so that all the enhancements to the museum property were "period appropriate," said Cawiezel, a board member of the nonprofit group.
Volunteers replaced gravel with brick pavers to make it easier for people who use wheelchairs to access the museum site, which is owned by the Lisle Park District and includes a farmhouse, tavern, blacksmith shop, railroad caboose and train depot.
Home Depot teams also planted perennials around the campus, touched up painting and added fencing.
"We did a lot of work in eight hours in the heat, but the place looks 100% better," Smith said.
Visitors can see the fruits of that labor during Depot Days on Sept. 18-19.
After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the festival will return to the museum venue with a vintage car display, a model railroad and demonstrations of beehive oven baking and blacksmithing. Pony rides will be a new addition this year, Cawiezel said.
And Smith? He has no plans to stop finding grant-funded projects.
"The moral of the story is on to the next one," he said.