April 20, 2023
How building a home for Mr. Bean renovated Mr. Lowell
By Elaine Maust
When Hurricane Rita roared through South Louisiana in 2005, she decimated Premeau Subdivision near Cameron. During Rita, the home of Ronald (Bean) and Ima Jean Gaspard and their adult son, Ronnie, disappeared.
“It took my house completely away,” Mr. Bean said. “I was stunned. There used be thirty-five houses back in there in Premeau Subdivision and there wa’n’t not one of them left. We found a few of my son’s collectable plates where the house used to be. That’s all. There was a hole where my house was so deep it took two great big dump truck loads to fill the hole.”
Mr. Bean was a shrimper and oyster fisherman with a 65’ shrimp boat. When he heard the hurricane forecast, he took his shrimp boat up the Calcasieu River to Lake Charles, about 50 miles away from the coast. A Mercy Ship was also anchored in Lake Charles.
“We were tied up in North Lake Charles,” Mr. Bean said. “Me and my cousin, our two boats right beside each other. We made it through the storm okay, just a few fixable things. Then the Mercy Ship broke loose. When it swung back around, it crushed both of our boats. They went down, side by side. My cousin and me lost both our boats at the same time. It was a loss of everything. No house. No boat. I had to borrow a set of clothes from a buddy of mine.”
Mr. Lowell Miller, MDS volunteer, said, “He had lost everything. It was really devastating for Mr. Bean.”
With insurance money from the house, Mr. Bean and Ms. Ima Jean paid off the boat that sunk and bought a 45’ shrimp boat and a home. “We bought a brand new double wide trailer,” Mr. Bean said. “We owned it for 15 months and another hurricane came through and we lost all of it. It was very discouraging. We learned to take it like it comes and know that there’s something better down the road. It’s hard sometimes. We went through four hurricanes if not more since that. But now that I’m in my senior years, I can look back and see the pieces of the puzzle come together.”
Two of the pieces of that puzzle were MDS and Mr. Lowell Miller.
“MDS come to our rescue,” Mr. Bean said. “Literally. I had done put a down payment on a little bittie old trailer. Right at that time MDS called and said that if I could put money down, they would build me a house. I called and cancelled the trailer. I put down $50,000 on a new house.”
Mr. Bean is still amazed at God’s timing. “When MDS got in contact with us it wasn’t too early, and it wasn’t too late. It was right on time. God had his hand in it the whole time.”
For Lowell Miller of Fairview, Michigan, the 2009 project in Cameron, Louisiana was his first long term MDS experience. “Long term MDS service was what got me really excited about MDS. The thing that’s really neat about MDS is if you can stay for a month or something like that, you get to know the people you are working for and you get to know the community.”
In Cameron Mr. Lowell and his wife, Shirley, met Mr. Bean. “MDS had three or four homes we were working at in the community,” Mr. Lowell said. “I was the crew leader for Mr. Bean’s house. His name was Ronald, but everybody called him Mr. Bean.”
Mr. Bean chuckled as he explained his lifelong nickname. “When I was young, I loved beans. Any kind of beans was my favorite food. That’s where I got the name.”
Mr. Lowell remembered, “Mr. Bean and his son, Ronnie, would go out oystering every morning. In the afternoon they would come back in. Mr. Bean would fish 7 days a week. He was out there all the time. They had a trailer on the lot so they could stay there. Ms. Ina Jane was a school bus driver. They would stop by every day, and we would talk with them a lot. We took pictures with them. We got to be really good friends.”
“MDS stresses that if the homeowners come around, talk to them,” Mr. Lowell explained. “Listen to the people. If they want to talk, sit down, and listen to them. Being with the people is more important than building them a building.”
Mr. Bean said. “Everybody was so nice. I did not hear, not one person gripe or complain about anything they had to do. I couldn’t believe how well organized they were.”
“Some of the MDS folks went oystering with us,” Mr. Bean said. “We took some Amish folks out there one day,” Mr. Bean laughed, remembering his amazement at the response of the leader of the Amish team.
“We went and worked on Mr. Gaspard’s house,” the Amish team leader said. “Then we went out oystering with him. We just thought we worked. Those people work!”
Mr. Lowell said, “In 2009 Mr. Bean’s house was finished, we were touching up at end of the day and Mr. Bean came in. He was crying. He said, ‘Mr. Lowell, I don’t understand. I don’t understand why all these people come from all over the United States and Canada and they build me a house and they don’t even know me.’”
Mr. Bean remembered that day. “How do you thank somebody like that? The only thing I could do was cry. There were no words to explain how I felt. There still ain’t. There just ain’t.”
“At that point,” Mr. Lowell said, “I knew I needed to tell him my story. When I grew up, I was fairly bashful. I didn’t share very much with anybody. But I knew I had something I needed to tell Mr. Bean. I sat down with Mr. Bean, and I cried with him. I told him my story.”
“When I was young,” Mr. Lowell said, “I was always at the bottom of my class. I was held back in the first grade. I couldn’t read. I got through the first grade and some of elementary school and I was always at the bottom. I got to the place where I felt, ‘Why was I born? Why did God make me?’ I felt useless. I got to 8thgrade. I flunked that. I went to eighth grade the second year and couldn’t make it. When I turned sixteen, I said, ‘School is not for me.’ I quit right there. I never when back again, even though I didn’t finish 8th grade. I wasn’t going to try it for the 3rd time.”
“I tried to identify with Mr. Bean who had lost everything,” Mr. Lowell continued. “I told him, ‘When I was 14 the Lord called me, and I accepted him, and he gave me a purpose to live and that changed everything for me.’ I told Mr. Bean how God had taken me from a point that I didn’t think it was worth living and God gave me everything I have. I let him know that when I was hopeless God helped me and took me out of that hopeless place.”
Mr. Bean remembered Mr. Lowell’s story fifteen years later, “I’ve felt like that a time or two myself,” he said.
At last, it was time for the dedication service of the Gaspard home. “He had a really rough time,” Mr. Lowell said, “Trying to thank the volunteers and community people who helped on his house. He cried. He didn’t know what to say or how to express himself. He kept saying, ‘How can I say thanks? How can I say thanks?’ I went over and I stood by him.”
“During the year when I was in Cameron,” Mr. Lowell said, “I got to go to all the house dedications. I went to the dedication service of Mr. Bob’s house. Mr. Bob said, ‘You know, I lost everything here. And God gave me this house. I didn’t buy this house. God gave it to me. When I get done with it, I’m not going to sell it. I’m going to give it away.’ That really stuck with me, him saying, ‘I’m going to give it away.’”
The impact of Mr. Bean’s and Mr. Bob’s responses at the dedication service, continues to influence Mr. Lowell. “I volunteered to give a devotional for MDS one time,” he said. “I told Mr. Bean’s story. I related that to my life. He lost everything and I felt I didn’t have anything when I was young. After being in MDS all I could hear was these echoes, ‘How can I say thanks? How can I say thanks? How can I say thanks?’ Those were Mr. Bean’s words. And the words of Mr. Bob, ‘I’m going to give it away. I’m going to give it away. I’m going to give it away.’”
“Being part of MDS changed Mr. Beans’ life and it also changed mine,” Mr. Lowell said.
After almost fifteen years Mr. Lowell called his friend, Mr. Bean.
“I’m going to tell you the truth,” Mr. Bean said, “When Mr. Lowell called me out of the blue and asked me about telling our story, it really blessed my socks that he was going to tell about me.”
Mr. Lowell and Mr. Bean, now both retired, have suffered a great deal since they met on an MDS worksite years ago. Mr. Bean’s beloved son, companion and oystering buddy, Ronnie, died at age 37. Mr. Lowell’s wife and MDS partner, Shirley, died from cancer.
Despite the personal hurricanes each suffered, their friendship stands firm. “He sounded so good,” Mr. Lowell said.
Mr. Bean reflected, “His call really blessed me. All the people MDS helps… all they done for… and he wants to tell about me. I don’t have no words to describe that other than awesome. I couldn’t believe that after fifteen years he remembered me. Just says to me that no matter who you are or where you are from you never know the impressions you are going to leave on someone. Bean is just bean. But in the eyes of God, Bean is somebody special.”
Mr. Bean would like to dedicate his testimony to the memory of his son, Ronnie.