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Ramp up: DeKalb Masons chip in to help brother

Dick Zenzen (left), of DeKalb, helps build a ramp for fellow Mason, Don Seitzinger, at his home in DeKalb, Ill. on Saturday May 1, 2010.
Dick Zenzen (left), of DeKalb, helps build a ramp for fellow Mason, Don Seitzinger, at his home in DeKalb, Ill. on Saturday May 1, 2010.

DeKALB – It has been difficult for Don Seitzinger to leave his home in his motorized wheelchair.

But that’s changing because members of the DeKalb Masonic Lodge No. 144 have volunteered to help the 80-year-old Seitzinger – also a Mason – get around easier.

The men, including Dan Steffa, Dick Zenzen and Steve Vaughn, have built an 11-by-7-foot deck and ramp from Seitzinger’s front door to his driveway.

“They’ve worked in the rain,” Seitzinger said of his fellow Masons as he took a break with Steffa in his living room last week. “I think they ought to get a nice thank you. I appreciate it.”

Seitzinger’s legs have gotten weaker, so he switched recently from a walker to a wheelchair. Maneuvering within his DeKalb home had grown difficult, and leaving the house was even harder: Seitzinger hasn’t been able to attend a Masons meeting in almost two years, he said.

When the Masons heard of Seitzinger’s difficulties getting around, they decided to help.

“It’s all donated time and materials,” Steffa said. “The (Masonic) Lodge is taking care of all the financing, which is great.”

Before volunteering to help, Steffa had only heard Seitzinger’s name mentioned but did not know him. This was one way to build a new relationship and bridge the age gap.

“I’ve always helped older people. I guess it always makes me feel good to help a senior citizen,” Steffa said.

The men have been working on the ramp for a few weeks. Something they’ve learned throughout the project is that certain requirements had to be met to obtain a building permit from the city, Steffa said.

Wheelchair-accessible ramps must be built to the specifications in the Illinois Accessibility Code and the International Residential Code, said Lou Larson, the city's building supervisor. The Illinois Accessibility Code has very similar guidelines as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.

The common rule for the slope is a 1:12 ratio – there needs to be 12 inches of run for every 1 inch of rise, he said.

"If you have a 4-inch step, you know that ramp is going to be at least 4 feet," Larson said. "The idea behind it is so the ramp isn't too steep and it's manageable for someone to use the ramp."

Larson said he gets a handful of permit requests a year from people wanting to build ramps. Many are older adults who are trying to retrofit their homes. Some are wheelchair-users, but others just have difficulty with stairs, he said.

"It's supposed to be so that the individual can easily use the ramp and not struggle," he said. "We go out and try to find ways to make it work as possible."

Seitzinger said he's thrilled to be able to get in and out of his house much easier.

"I can come and go as I want to," he said.

Community service is a main facet of the fraternal organization, said Jim Tome, Worshipful Master of the DeKalb Masonic Lodge. And it means even more to help a fellow member, he said.

"We're taking care of our own and that's what we're all about," he said.

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