Volunteers steps in to complete yard for reservist headed to Iraq

By John Trumbo, Herald staff writerOctober 10, 2008 

KENNEWICK -- A whirlwind of effort Thursday at the Kennewick home of a military reservist who's being sent to Iraq kicked off a volunteer makeover that's expected to give the family a fully landscaped yard by the end of next week.

The volunteer effort was spurred after a Herald story told about how the subdivision developer had given Burke and Heidi Jensen an ultimatum to complete their landscaping, as required by the subdivision covenants. Burke Jensen has been called up for active duty, and a landscaper he'd hired apparently walked off the job, leaving the yard in bare dirt and a partially completed irrigation system.

On Thursday, a crew from Montgomery Construction Sprinkler Systems Specialists in Richland began laying out concrete curbing, fabric weed barrier and spreading decorative stone by the ton.

The crew of 10 and a small frontloader made short work of the heavy lifting at the home on 2.5 acres in the upscale Oak Hills Country Estates at the south end of Oak Street. Miniature U.S. flags marked the driveway entrance.

Landscaper Tim Montgomery also picked up shrubs and trees donated by several Tri-City nurseries and arranged for 18,000 square feet of sod to be delivered and laid next Friday. "We want everyone to come on out for sod day," he said.

The effort has attracted dozens of volunteers and donations from at least a dozen businesses, Montgomery said. There have been donations of plants, sod, rock, dirt, labor, even food for the workers, thanks to Operation Thank You, a Tri-City veterans support organization.

Jensen bought the home after getting a job at Energy Northwest about a year ago, but was called to active duty earlier this year. He did not get his yard in within the year allowed by subdivision homeowners covenants.

Chick Edwards, a hay farmer who is developing the 200-acre subdivision, threatened to take action against the Jensens, telling the Herald that Jensen had had enough time to ensure the work was done.

Jensen's pregnant wife, Heidi, chose not to remain in Kennewick alone while he was overseas and moved to live with relatives in New Jersey. That left the home unoccupied and without landscaping for the past six months.

After the Herald's story on the situation five days ago, dozens of people called with offers of help. Montgomery said he offered to lead the volunteer landscaping effort because his wife's son recently returned from serving in Iraq.

The Jensens do not expect to return to their home until after his military assignment is completed late next year. Until then, volunteers have agreed to maintain the yard, Montgomery said.

A loaner home security system also has been offered.

Business donors include Wood's Nursery, C&M Nursery, Red Mountain Feed, Job's Nursery, Bedrock, American Rock Products, Kennewick Industrial, United Pipe and Plumbing, Moon Security, Subway, Costco Home Depot and Basin Sod.

Other support has come from Fluor Hanford, Operation Thank You and many individuals, including military reservists, the Elks Club and River View High School Panthers, Montgomery said.

Some people also have offered financial support. Donations can be made to the Lt. Burke Jensen Landscaping Fund at any branch of HAPO Credit Union, said Norma Nunamaker, director of Project Thank You.

Montgomery said the landscaper hired by Jensen to do the work while he was on military duty didn't finish the job, but what work was done was done well.

"In all fairness to him, he got it in good. That got us a day ahead on this job," Montgomery said.

After work is finished late next week, Montgomery said there will be a ceremony in the front yard at a new 20-foot flagpole.

Those who have volunteered or supported the Jensen family will be allowed to place a handprint in wet concrete at the flagpole base.

"It will be a way for the Jensens to see how many helping hands were involved," Montgomery said.

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