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Originally published December 23, 2011 at 8:02 PM | Page modified December 23, 2011 at 8:12 PM

The gift of a new roof touches many

Neighbors in Greenwood have banded together to give another neighbor a special Christmas present: a new roof.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Tucked off a street in the Greenwood neighborhood is a small orange house, its paint peeling and — until this week — its plywood roof leaking.

The modest two-story structure has been home to 62-year-old Ruth Piper for 30 years.

Piper had been worried about the roof, especially when the rains came, so she'd propped up a tall ladder and climbed atop the house to patch the holes — all to the watchful eyes of horrified neighbors.

Now they've given Piper, who lives on a fixed income, the treasured Christmas gift of a new roof.

"We did it to help a neighbor," said one of the neighbor's, Lance Mansfield. "It's very cool."

The story began several weeks ago when four concerned neighbors watched Piper, who never married and has no children, climb atop her roof to apply tar to the many leaky areas. The roof had been damaged in a thunderstorm so Piper had covered it with tarps, but the tarps blew away, exposing the leaky plywood.

Piper said the storm also knocked out much of her electricity and that she has no hot water.

At one point, Mansfield went on the roof himself to patch it, but realized the damage was well beyond the patching stage — and his roofing abilities.

So the neighbors gathered at a dinner party and plotted how to help.

One placed an ad in Craigslist looking for free roofing material. When roofing contractor Ben Mears, of Kent, first saw the ad, "I thought it was a scam," he said. He called the neighbor who'd placed the notice and "he was a nice guy," Mears said. He decided to pitch in.

Mears called a roofing company he works with, Stoneway Roofing Supply, which agreed to provide materials at 75 percent off, and he volunteered to do the labor for free. In all, the new roof cost $1,000 — $250 from each of four neighboring families — a fraction of the $6,000 estimate Piper had received.

"We all have skills, and I just do what I can. This is just one roof," said Mears. "It's fun for me, and the timing is impeccable. We should all have neighbors like this. They are really showing the Christmas spirit."

Piper acknowledged her old roof was scary when she tried to scale it. "I'm very, very thrilled," she said.

The four neighbors, and their spouses, made it clear the new roof comes with no strings attached, sending Piper a Christmas card with a note tucked inside.

"Merry Christmas. Six of your neighbors would like to give you a gift this Christmas," the note read. "This is a gift given free and clear of any future obligation. Please accept this gift as an expression of our care for you. We don't want you to be wet this Christmas."

One of the six, Michael Redmond, said helping a neighbor is "what people should be doing all year around."

"We care about her," he said.

Mansfield said the neighbors are not done yet. Next up: fix Piper's electricity.

Another person who might benefit from their acts of generosity? Mears 7-year-old daughter, who is begging for a bicycle for Christmas.

"How can I give a woman a roof and my 7-year-old not a bicycle," Mears said.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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