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MERRILLVILLE — When Gino Iussig fell in his home and broke his leg recently, his family didn’t know what to do.

Even before the accident, it was difficult for the World War II veteran, 93, and his wife, Joyce, to go outside of the home they’ve shared for more than 50 years.

“In one day, this group of guys with wings on their backs come in and solved the problem,” said Iussig’s daughter Karen Kuzma, of Lowell.

The “guys with wings on their backs” are Chicago UAW/Ford Community Service Team.

The five team members are from UAW Local 588 at the Ford Chicago stamping plant and UAW Local 551 from the Ford Chicago assembly plant.

Together for the past 18 months, they travel from Valparaiso to Joliet helping people in need.

They’ve completed about 100 projects from building handicapped-accessible ramps at homes like the Iussigs’ to renovating the Down Syndrome Association of Northwest Indiana in Highland, said project manager Jeff Hall, of Lowell. He said the team is supported by the UAW and Ford Motor Co.

“We are giving back to the communities within a 60-mile radius,” Hall said.

Pete Iussig, of Lowell, and Gino’s son, said after his father’s accident, he contacted Jim Chancellor, a Lowell friend who is very active with veterans. Chancellor, in turn, contacted Jason Gootee, a Lake County Veterans Service officer. Gootee contacted the team.

“In 20 minutes, this guy (Hall) was calling us up,” said Pete Iussig, adding that the team came out the next day to take measurements and make plans for the construction of the ramp.

Without cost to the Iussigs, the men spent three days at the Merrillville home constructing the ramp.

“If you go from 1 to 10, they’re a 10-plus,” said Gino Iussig as he watched the men work from his front window. “What they are doing here is first class. It can’t get much better.”

Gino Iussig, who was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 following his graduation from Lew Wallace High School in 1942, said he and his wife now will be able to get outdoors without assistance.

“If I wanted to go outside, I need a wheelchair,” said Gino Iussig, adding his wife, who uses a walker, can now get outside with ease to walk the driveway and get the mail.

What the men are giving them, he said, is more than a ramp, it is their independence.

“It is pretty gratifying to see the recipients’ faces when the work is done,” said team member Geoff Butler, of Valparaiso.

“A WWII vet needed to be acknowledged in a positive way,” said Hall, adding they work with various agencies, from Habitat for Humanity to Catholic Family Services, to receive referrals on who needs help.

The team, which also includes Steve Conner, of St. John, Matt Reils, of Homewood, and Lance Olson, of St. John, have each worked for Ford for 18 years or more before becoming members of the Community Service Team.


Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for more than 38 years, including 23 years with The Times. She covers municipal and school government in Valparaiso and Portage.