Friday, March 21, 1997
Flood victims welcome
Mennonite volunteers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW RICHMOND - Pauline Skeene greeted volunteers with the Mennonite Disaster Service (MSD) with a smile and a one-liner: ''Couldn't sell you a house, could I?''

They aren't buying, but the volunteers will be cleaning and fixing up flood-damaged houses. On Thursday, they added to their list the yellow, two-story house in Moscow where Mrs. Skeene has lived for about 45 years.

Rebuilding her house's interior - where flood water 6 feet deep tossed her refrigerator, soaked the plaster and left a fuel-oil stench - will have to wait, explained Don Oesch, the group's advance man.

''Before rebuilding starts, you have to get it dry,'' Mr. Oesch said. That could take a month.

Mr. Oesch, a retired teacher and Mennonite volunteer from Carson City, Mich., has collected several jobs for the group in New Richmond, Moscow and Neville - three flood-struck Clermont County communities along U.S. 52 and the Ohio River.

''We're doing cleanup and tear-out for people, and then when it dries out, we'll help rebuild,'' said Mary Oesch, Don's wife and a volunteer.

Mennonite Disaster Service, a church organization founded in 1950 and dedicated to fixing the messes storms leave behind, plans to stay in the New Richmond area for six months to a year. Volunteers will arrive in shifts, staying one to five days. Many will come from Mennonite, Amish and Old German Baptist communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

They provide the labor while, they hope, the local community donates the supplies.

Their base is a dormitory they have created inside a former car dealership on Washington Street. A kitchen, sleeping room and shower area have been installed.

Donations of building supplies have begun arriving, along with gifts of new and used kitchen equipment from New Richmond's St. Peter Catholic Church and a $5,000 check from employees and owners at Besl Transfer Co.

MDS officials hope for one additional donation - 500 square yards of indoor-outdoor carpeting to make things more comfortable.

Although Mennonite volunteers couldn't do anything Thursday inside her house, could they help Mrs. Skeene this weekend with outside clean-up? She readily accepted. ''It's just wonderful, wonderful,'' she said.

To donate or to ask for help, call the Mennonite Disaster Service, 553-7200.