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Volunteers spruce up a World War II vet’s MN home

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On the most sweltering day of the year so far, more than two dozen volunteers descended on the home of a World War II veteran with paintbrushes and hammers in hand.

The group, employees at Humana Inc. volunteering with Hearts and Hammers, were there Friday to make improvements to the home of Elmer Boettcher. The 97-year-old has lived in his West St. Paul home since 1948.

With the work going on around him, Boettcher sat in a golf cart wearing his Twins cap, joking with the volunteers. His shed and trim were repainted, weeds were pulled and outdoor light fixtures got a fresh finish.

“It’s just great, I have no words,” Boettcher said.

Temperatures reached into the low 90s, but the humidity made it feel like 110.


Boettcher was 21 years old when he was drafted in 1942. He trained at a base in Alabama before spending 13 months in the Philippines as a radar operator.

He then helped with the repatriation of Japanese prisoners from a war camp after World War II ended. Boettcher served three years, three months and 21 days before returning to Minnesota.

Once home, Boettcher built his house in 1948, placing “every single one” of the 1,700 bricks himself as his wife mixed the cement.

Originally, he purchased the lot in West St. Paul for $400. Now, the land alone is appraised at nearly $100,000.

“I should’ve bought the whole street,” Boettcher said, laughing. “Too bad I didn’t have the money.”


Humana sales director Jan Mudd said his company stresses giving back to the community and was attracted to the work of Hearts and Hammers.

The St. Paul-based nonprofit gathers volunteers to fix up homes of low-income disabled individuals, seniors and military veterans.

“Just in the Twin Cities area there are more than 6,000 homeowners that need our services, and we can help keep them in their forever home,” said Randi Prebil, executive director of Hearts and Hammers.

Boettcher heard about Hearts and Hammers through a grandson who had spoken to a previous volunteer. His will be one of 55 homes throughout the Twin Cities refurbished this year, Prebil said.


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© 2019 the Pioneer Press