Of all the people associated with Habitat for Humanity, probably no one is more committed to the cause than Bill “Tiny” Hanshaw.
He calls it an addiction.
Habitat’s construction supervisor for 18 years, he pours every ounce of his 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame into the volunteer program that builds homes for those who otherwise could not afford them.
He is working this very minute on his 100th house for Habitat.
At 47, a veteran builder from Braxton County, he oversees volunteer crews working on homes, including prospective owners required to contribute 500 hours of sweat equity as a condition of ownership. That house isn’t free. Approved clients pay an interest-free mortgage through Habitat.
He sees himself as a kind of teacher charged with sharing his knowledge and perpetuating his passion for building a quality home.
The big-hearted man with the Santa Claus silhouette takes great satisfaction in the concept behind his work. Monetary compensation means nothing compared to the joy he sees on the faces of the people he’s helping.
After 18 years and 100 houses, he’s firmly convinced that he has landed exactly where he belonged. He’s as grounded as the sturdy cinderblock foundations on those Habitat houses going up on North Hills Drive in North Charleston.
“I started my childhood in Nicholas County, then moved to Braxton County when I was 13. My dad worked for the Corps of Engineers and transferred from Summersville Dam to Sutton Dam. I graduated from Braxton County High School in 1989.
“I didn’t want to go to college unless I was going to play sports. I wasn’t a big school person. That led me to construction. My dad was in construction and maintenance for the corps. My grandfather worked for Elkem Metals, so I guess construction was kind of my background.
“I learned from my dad and grandpa about building things and running equipment. We were always working on things around the house, building fences or working on the porch or patching a leaky roof, and I helped them through the years.
“I started with the Boilermakers but after four years, I didn’t like traveling and living out of a suitcase. I came back to West Virginia. moved to Charleston and started with West Star Construction.
“We built a lot of homes in Bennington Green in Cross Lanes and Coventry Woods out at Southridge. They built the big white building with the blue roof on Oakwood Road.
“My boss let me learn by error, by doing hands-on. You can read stuff in a book or have a teacher show it, but there’s nothing like hands-on learning. I had a boss who said, ‘There’s the dozer, clear this lot.’
“It probably took me longer, but I’m thankful he gave me the opportunity to learn on my own. I had a carpenter, Russ Adams, who took me under his wing and taught me how to hang kitchen cabinets and run baseboard and lay a wall out. Kids today don’t get the chance to learn like that under a true craftsman. He molded me into the person I ended up being as a carpenter.
“I enjoyed seeing a piece of land with trees on it and having a nice beautiful home there in a few months. And I liked seeing people enjoy the fruits of your labor.
“When I worked for West Star, my boss’ nickname was Skee, from a cartoon character. He thought everyone who worked for him had to have a nickname, so he named me ’Tiny,’ and I’ve had that for close to 30 years. I’ve been big all my life. I was a big baby, 10 and a half pounds. If somebody calls me by my real name, a lot of times I don’t even turn around. Everyone up here knows me as ‘Tiny’ and that’s fine with me.
“When West Star’s work got extremely slow, I went to work in the chemical plant. Relco is the name of the company. The owner lived in Gassaway and drove here every day. We worked in Carbide and DuPont.
“I made good money, but the work wasn’t very rewarding. You cleaned up chemical spills not knowing what you were getting into sometimes. After three years, I’d had all I could stand.
“I went to work for Scott Barnett with Kanawha Valley Development. He was the board president of Habitat for Humanity. He was a lawyer but had a construction business. After about a year, he called me to the office. I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.’ But he said he noticed how I love interacting with people and wanted me to become part of a company he was very passionate about — Habitat for Humanity.
“I was hired the next day as construction supervisor and that was 18 years ago. We have a few subcontractors who do work for us, but most of the work is done by volunteers with me overseeing the job.
“In September, we are going to start framing my 100th house. It’s a major milestone to be part of a 100 of anything. We’ve changed 100 family’s lives in our mission. Ucted 174 houses all together.
“We have what we call sweat equity. The family has to work on their home to get it. A married couple has to have 250 hours working on someone else’s house and 250 hours on their own house. I work with those families.
“I don’t go to dedications. I’ve only been to five. I have two reasons. I don’t want it to be about me or about Habitat anymore. I want it to be all about them. I don’t want us to interfere with their happiness. I don’t miss seeing their joy because I see the joy each day they come out and work.
“The second reason I don’t go is, I don’t want to see a big guy break down into tears, because it is a pretty emotional time. I’ve had a lot of hugs in my day, and I hope I have many more.
“Habitat is all about a hand up and not a handout. It’s for people who are striving but just don’t get there. They work hard every day. They just don’t make enough money to buy a house on their own with a conventional loan.
“We don’t give anybody a house. We give them the opportunity to be a home buyer with an interest-free loan. Building with volunteers keeps the cost down.
“Every house is bought by the home buyer in the program with a 20-year interest-free loan. The mortgage never exceeds 30 percent of their income. And we do that by utilizing volunteers to build it.
“We wear these Habitat shirts and people say, ‘You are doing great things giving those people a house.’ But we don’t give anybody anything except the opportunity to be a homeowner.
“We are the bank. We do our own closings. Throughout the world, Habitat has a less than 2 percent foreclosure rate.
“It’s set up so no Habitat home buyer can make a profit on their house until they own it. They can’t come in and live in it for two years and flip it for a profit. We put a second mortgage on the house as soon as it’s sold and we have first refusal on that house if it gets sold.
“They have classes they have to take to qualify for the program. A lot of them have had landlords all their lives and have never done anything to take care of their home. I like to see people continue to take care of what we’ve worked so hard to help them get. Most of them do a very good job.
“All three of my kids have been involved with Habitat. My oldest son worked three summers with me. My middle son had 1,210 hours when he finished high school. My daughter is working with me now. She started this summer and has 600 hours already and she has two more years. Her goal is to beat her brother.
“It teaches them a lot about taking care of a house. They’re able to do things that a lot of people would have to call someone to do for them.
“I’ve had people come back and say, ‘Tiny, I changed the kitchen faucet in my house because you let me experience that first-hand.’ It’s neat to hear those stories.
“We like to have several projects going on in different phases. If it’s raining today, we can go inside and work. We work year round.
“The smallest house we ever sell is a three-bedroom because two-bedroom houses do not keep their property value. Six bedrooms is the largest house we’ve built. That was for a family with 12 kids.
“Every year, Dow and Covestro, formerly Bayer, do a raise the roof with us. They make a sizeable donation and we put a house under roof in a week. One company does it in the beginning of September and one does it at the end of month.
“We don’t build a perfect house, but it’s built with a lot of love and a lot of care. We build them as close to perfect as we can.
“I just walk from one house to the other to make sure volunteers understand what they are doing. I answer questions and show them how to do something. I guess I’m a teacher in certain ways. I‘m not teaching them out of a book, but I’m teaching them how to construct a house in the proper way.
“We have volunteer groups that come back year after year. They like that reward of driving by a year later and telling their family that they helped build that house. It’s knowing you’ve been a part of changing someone’s life.
“I’ve coached everything from high school and middle school wrestling to peewee football. I’ve never called myself a head coach of anything. I want to be back there just helping the kids. If I can give anything to a kid or an adult that can help them through life, I like to do be able to do that.
“This is neatest program I’ve ever been involved in. Our mission is to eliminate substandard housing.
“Once you are a part of this and you see the end product and how hard the families and volunteers work, you get addicted to it. You want to come back and do more and more.
“The good Lord put me here because it’s where I’m supposed to be. This is where I belong. I enjoy coming to work every morning. A lot of people can’t say that. I feel really blessed.”