Written by Tom Simon, Habitat Director of Development
“I wanted to pass this note along on why we do the Golden Hammer Legacy Society. It is more than what we receive, it is the honor that those who give receive from giving.
John Morth was a working class man. He lived on Broad Street in Menasha. He moved there as a young man and lived there almost 60 years. He worked over three decades as a mill worker. He raised 7 children. His wife died after he retired, but John continued to live in the same old home within walking distance of the factory.
He was not a rich man. He looked rather rough. He was famous for walking the neighborhood in retirement collecting cans and scrap to recycle for money. But he was kind, giving and known to all his neighbors as “the neighborhood grandpa.” Whenever someone in the neighborhood needed help, or a safe place to spend the night, he let them in.
His house deteriorated over time. So did John’s health. In 2012, the children finally intervened and told him he had to move to a home. John insisted that Habitat should have his house. It was donated in a meeting with John Weyenberg. John sent him a nice thank you from the heart. We invited him to be a member of the Golden Hammer Legacy Society. We promised that we would let him see what we did with the property.
We cleared the old home and the Reider family built with us in 2015. We kept in touch with Mr. Morth’s son and invited John Morth to the dedication. His son brought him to the ceremony. John was recognized and stood up. He looked gaunt. He was frail. But he choked up as neighbors thanked him. I wrote him a letter of thanks afterwards. Vaya arranged a picture book that was included with the letter. John Morth especially liked a picture of his children standing on the front porch of the old house in 1978. Vaya copied it and aligned it in the book with a picture of the Reider children standing on the porch of the new home in 2015. John Morth’s son said his dad really loved that.
John Morth passed away on May 10, 2016.
His obituary used a photo Vaya used in the dedication book. At the funeral, the dedication book was placed on a table with a candle and the handwritten letters John received from Habitat. The son sent me a note telling me of this and thanking us. It had meant the world to his dad to donate the home. The dedication had been his proudest moment.
We do our work to help people but also to help people know the joy of helping. As I was cleaning up my notes on the Golden Hammer Society, I realized that John had died. But I was wrong on two counts.
He lives on in the lives in the Rieder home.
He was one of the richest men I’ve ever known.