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Pinellas Habitat for Humanity volunteer gains national acclaim

Dan Stowers works on the roof of a Habitat home. Stowers also has been the architect of the homes built by Habitat in Pinellas for the past 12 years.
Published Apr. 9, 2013

ST. PETE BEACH

For two or three hours each day, you can find Dan Stowers in his office poring over housing blueprints.

At least once a week, he's out in the sun, pounding the nails at a work site.

At least once a year, he's traveling either nationally or abroad, guiding other builders as they ply their craft.

And that, mind you, is only the short list of what this 74-year-old St. Pete Beach retiree does in his free time.

Stowers has been a Habitat for Humanity volunteer for more than 20 years. His work has taken him from Hawaii to Hungary to Harlem. He's helped out with Habitat Global Village builds, led Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project construction crews around the world, and even started a Habitat chapter in Romania.

That's on top of the 25 or so homes that the civil engineer designs and helps build annually in Pinellas County.

For his dedication, Stowers recently received the Clive Rainey Award, given annually in the name of Habitat's first volunteer to up to four American volunteers whose accomplishments have significantly advanced the organization's mission.

He was chosen from among nominations by Habitat's more than 1,500 affiliate chapters.

"You can pay people and not get near the service that he provides as a professional engineer for Habitat," said Ron Spoor, chief operating officer for Habitat Pinellas.

"In fact, when calculating the monetary value of Dan's in-kind donation, Dan is the largest individual donor in the affiliate's history," Spoor said. "Through his donation of time and resources to Habitat, Dan has enabled the affiliate to increase its production and serve many additional families."

Stowers' history with Habitat began in Columbus, Ohio. In the fall of 1991, Stowers had just retired after 25 years designing bridges, roads, marinas and other state park infrastructure for Ohio's Department of Natural Resources.

His church called on members to help drive vans for Habitat's 15th anniversary. Stowers quickly realized that the group united two of his loves: home improvement projects and travel.

"He was always a very good home handyman," said his wife, Carolyn, 72. "That's why it was a good natural progression for retirement — because he already knew how to use the right end of a hammer."

When the couple moved to Florida a few months later, Stowers immediately looked up Habitat Pinellas. He filled his days traveling to work sites and organizing Habitat work days with fellow Pass-a-Grille Beach Community Church members, who sponsored a house.

That dedication and enthusiasm for Habitat's mission was why Habitat tapped Stowers about 12 years ago to replace its former architect.

That has meant countless hours on his home computer laying out new Habitat homes, pulling permits, attending night government meetings to speak with neighbors or elected leaders, and scaling roofs alongside other volunteers who are working to bring his designs to life.

Some of the designs are tricky. Honoring Habitat's desire that each house be unique has turned Stowers into something of a magician at modifying layouts to fit odd lot shapes and sizes, while also making the homes energy- and water-efficient to lower insurance and utility rates and still incorporating details the family needs or desires.

"If you were to put me on the spot, I couldn't think of a time he's ever complained, and I've put him up to some tough tasks," Spoor said. "There's lots of people with skills, but Dan's spirit, to me, really sets him apart. He has such a spirit of humility and hard work and he just works so well with other people. His spirit really, I think, sets the example of the kind of spirit we want to exemplify at Habitat."

Stowers shrugs his shoulders when asked whether he feels deserving of the Rainey award. He prefers to talk about the volunteers he's met, what he's learned from the different cultures he's encountered on overseas trips, and the dedicated Habitat homeowners — many of them working-class people who simply want a safe place to raise their children.

"That's what keeps me going," Stowers said. "Seeing people get a house they more than likely would not be able to get."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com.

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