Photo by Peggy Sturdivant.
Rampathon recipients Chris & Thomas Hamilton with Dan Bower, Lead Carpenter of Jackson Remodeling.

At Large in Ballard: Twenty-Nine Feet of Independence

By Peggy Sturdivant

“I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” 2014 Rampathon recipient Thomas Hamilton told Dan Bower, crew chief of Jackson Remodeling at the end of an eleven-and-a-half hour day of volunteer labor. He was referring to one post supporting the new 29’ foot ramp built for his home as part of the Master Builders Care Foundation 21st year of Rampathon on May 17. The Hamiltons had applied and been selected as one of 18 recipients this year in which ramps are built at no cost to the homeowner, with all materials and labor donated by local companies.

Leif and Eric Jackson are the brother owners of Jackson Remodeling in Ballard. Their company had done Rampathon in the past; they and their employees wanted to do it again. This year the annual event was on the same day their mother Mari-Ann Kind Jackson was an Honorary Grand Marshal of the Syttende Mai Parade, all of their children were in the parade and their company was a sponsor of an after-parade dinner at Anthony’s at Shilshole.

So it was a busy day all around as the crew of seven, plus talented offspring arrived at the Hamilton house in Greenwood at 7 a.m. and worked till almost 7 p.m. that night. Even before the construction day Leif Jackson had visited with the Hamiltons to assess the layout and do some measuring. Then Dan Bower had designed the ramp that would allow Mr. Hamilton to leave his home more safely. “I put in about seven hours before I picked up a real tool,” Brewer said. “Unless you count pencil and paper as tools, which you should.”

All the materials were donated by Dunn Lumber and Plywood Supply; wood posts and railings and a no-slip plywood for the walkway. Jackson Remodeling was the lead on this project with Carlisle Classic Homes providing support. Bower estimated the materials alone would have cost about $3,000. “Including the labor this would probably have cost about $8000.”

Chris Hamilton looked at the long ramp that now goes from their back door to where the car is parked on the alley driveway across from a Seattle City Light substation. “The ramp has been a godsend. It gives him so much more independence.”

Hamilton has multiple system atrophy, a degenerative disorder that is similar to Parkinson’s Disease but will in time affect all of Hamilton’s body, including his brain. His wife Chris Hamilton had retired early as dental claims adjuster to help her sister with caregiving for their mother. One month after her mother’s death her husband Tom collapsed. That was the beginning of a yearlong roller coaster ride of 9-1-1 calls, seemingly unrelated symptoms and finally a diagnosis. At its worst stage Hamilton needed to be in a nursing facility until it was clear that his brain was still capable of giving directions to his legs.

To see the Hamiltons in May 2014 is to be amazed that he was so incapacitated before doctors were able to start connecting and treating his disorders. In the week following the Rampathon, Hamilton, a decorated US Air Force veteran, had been distributing poppies in front of Safeway for Memorial Day. The Hamiltons had hosted a dinner at their American Legion Post and were preparing to go camping near the Hood Canal, partly in honor of Tom’s 75th birthday.

Christ Hamilton had gotten a ramp estimate after Tom’s diagnosis that almost put her into shock. She learned about Rampathon from a physical therapist and applied this year. Once accepted, the Hamiltons had a visit from Leif Jackson. Companies do not come any more committed than Jackson Remodeling to supporting their community. They participate in the Phinney Neighborhood Association Home Fair and the Sustainable Ballard Festival.  They contribute to the fundraising efforts of all the local schools, as well the BHS Maritime Academy and they sponsor Little League teams in Ballard, Magnolia and Queen Anne! Jackson Remodeling has done Rampathon in what capacity or another since 2005.

Standing together at the top of the long ramp that has eliminated one of the trickiest things for Hamilton, descending steep steps with unreliable legs, Chris Hamilton looks just plain happy. Since her husband’s illness Chris Hamilton has had to shoulder many things, but her husband on the back steps will no longer be one of them.

Dan Bower of Jackson Remodeling/Seismic Sound took a look at that one post not sunk into the ground and decided he would return on his own time another day to set it right. “The big things work themselves out,” he said. “It’s the little things that stick out. Fixing them makes a huge difference.”

So Bower wasn’t insulted by Hamilton’s comment about the bracket in one post. Instead it was a measure of mutual respect. Hamilton was a veteran, airplane mechanic, longtime Metro driver and a former builder himself. Just because Hamilton could no longer do the carpentry was no reason that the 29’ ramp shouldn’t be built as well as he would have done it himself. Clearly Hamilton and Bower both highly value doing things the way they should be done. The 2014 Rampathon was over but Bower was still going to finish the job.

Contact Peggy atlargeinballard@peggysturdivant.com.

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