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Bill Kantonen: Celebrating 25 Years of Service

Having a conversation with Bill Kantonen about the last 25 years of volunteering to build houses with Asheville Habitat is a little like eating at a 5 star restaurant. With a 25-year databank of stories, he has to be selective about what he shares, but what he served up was a rich and well-seasoned selection.

Bill Kantenon

Bill Kantonen on the jobsite

A longstanding dedication to honor his commitments, is truly a thread that runs all through Bill’s life, beginning long before he hammered his first nail with Asheville Habitat. Bill worked with the YMCA for approximately 40 years, serving across the nation, finally ending up in Asheville to serve the last 12 years as Executive Director of the Asheville YMCA. A few years before signing on with the YMCA, he married his wife Jennifer with whom he spent a happily married life for the next 60 years. When Bill started his 25 year span of volunteering with Asheville Habitat he was 36 years in to marriage and 40 years into a career with a single organization.

At 40 years, however, Bill decided to retire from the YMCA in June of 1996. And, approximately one month later, in August of 96’, Bill started volunteering on jobsites every Friday morning- and would continue building houses with Asheville Habitat every week for the next 25 years. (That adds up to over 1,000 days on the jobsite, or work on over 300 houses as a volunteer!) Bill started while Asheville Habitat was building their third neighborhood, located in Wilson Creek.  Since then, Bill has built in every single Habitat neighborhood in the Asheville area.

He recalls attending the 200th home celebration in which Habitat’s founder, Millard Fuller, was the guest speaker and commented on the quality of the volunteers’ work. He said “In observing the volunteers, I believe they have reasoned, if 2 nails are good, then 10 are even better. I don’t worry about a hurricane or tornado passing through, but if someone walks by with a really large magnet, I might get nervous.” And the volunteers aren’t the only ones going the extra mile on Habitat jobsites. Bill has worked with the last three Asheville Habitat Construction Supervisors, and he says “They are all so professional. Habitat certainly builds houses to be proud of. If you don’t do it right, you do it over!”

But ultimately, Bill says, “If I can take anything away from the past 25 years, it’s the people. The volunteers, the supervisors who made sure you do it right or do it over, the folks who brought donuts for the coffee breaks…I will always remember the people.”

Bill recalls all the college students who come each year for Collegiate Challenge and alternative spring breaks. He said, “They always ask me why I do

Bill Kantonen Edited

Bill Kantonen in Maui

this. Why do I volunteer every Friday, instead of playing golf or something like that? I tell them, when you leave at the end of the day after working on a Habitat house, you can look back and say, hey, I did that!”

Bill began volunteering with Asheville Habitat with a group of volunteers from his church, First Presbyterian of Asheville. He is one of the last of the original group to still be volunteering. But at 85, he sees no reason to stop now. He is patiently waiting until he can return after a year of limited volunteer service, and begin working on the biggest neighborhood to date, New Heights.

His incredible 25 years of service with Asheville Habitat isn’t the only thing that makes Bill stand out.  Perhaps it was the fact that he was in Maui with his daughters during our conversation, but even over the phone, Bill exudes the values of his generation. He is lighthearted, even when sharing about difficult times, he is incredibly sharp- offering meaningful memories from all aspects of his volunteer service, and he is impeccably faithful in honoring his commitments. It has truly been an honor to have Bill as part of the Asheville Habitat family for all these years.

Thank you, Bill, for your 25 years of service!  You are an inspiration to our whole team!