Wallace Ackman said he believes in angels but never considered himself to be one.
But after raising more than $7,000 to put a new roof on a Houma World War II veteran's house, some people might say he was doing an angel's work.
"I'm still not sure why I did it," the Patterson man said Wednesday. "It was just something I felt I had to do. Look at what he's done for our country."
Ackman was just days away from retiring after working 43 years for Sewart Supply in Morgan City when he struck up a conversation with 91-year-old Viles Crochet one cold and rainy December day at a Houma store.
"Right before Christmas I was over in Houma and it was raining and really cold that day," Ackman said. "Mr. Viles was sitting by a heater. I asked him, 'Got enough rain for you?' He told me it was raining all over inside his house because his roof was bad."
Ackman said he can't explain what exactly came over him when he heard about the war veteran's leaky roof but knew he had to do something.
"I asked him how at 91 he didn't have enough money to fix his roof, and he told me when he was 81 or 82 he decided to spend all of his savings because he didn't think he was going to live much longer," Ackman said. "That was 10 years ago. When he told me that, it cut like a knife. It hurt."
Ackman went home and informed his wife that he had one last project to do before he retired.
"I was in charge of some of Sewart Supply's elite accounts, and I had 65 customers I'd call on whom I considered friends," Ackman said. "Being all my customers are friends, I decided to do something I never did before. I went around to all of my customers to raise the money to buy Mr. Viles a new roof."
In association with Houma's Regional Military Museum, which provided Ackman with 501c3 tax-exempt forms, Ackman drove about 1,100 miles in four days to collect $7,090 for the new roof.
"Everybody just wanted to help when I told them Mr. Viles' story," Ackman said. "I went to these peoples' houses and started telling them the story, but before I was even through telling them they would get out their checkbooks. That's how generous these people were."
Ackman said he collected the money from 22 anonymous donors who sympathized with the war veteran's plight.
"More than 74 years after this man served his country, he's getting paid back by concerned citizens," Ackman said. "It's a high that you can't replace. It's true that it's much more fun to give than it is to receive."
After calling several area roofing companies for estimates, Ackman settled on Alvin Ballard Roofing in Houma, which installed a metal roof on Crochet's Main Street house.
Ackman said Crochet was initially skeptical of his intentions.
"I had to explain to him what I was doing because at first he thought it was a scam," Ackman said. "I had the folder with all of the checks with me and put them on the table. He looked at the checks and then looked up at me and started shaking my hand. He must have shaken my hand for three minutes."
Although Crochet declined to comment, his daughter Claudia Crochet said her father was overcome with gratitude.
"I was skeptical at first because nowadays people steal from you, they don't give you things like that," Claudia Crochet said. "I was just shocked. It makes you feel good to see that there are people like that in the world. My brother had been doing patchwork on that roof, but he became too weak to do it anymore and died on Nov. 2. It just bothered my brother so much. I think his spirit went and visited Mr. Ackman. He said, 'I found a man who could do this for me.' Now, my brother's spirit is free."
After Crochet's shiny metal roof was installed about two weeks ago, Ackman said he just had one request for the war veteran.
"The only thing I asked him to do was to go into his house and throw all those pots, pans and buckets away because wasn't going to be needing them anymore," Ackman said. "He's never going to have rain in his house again."
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