Rockne Roll/News-Register##Doug Cruikshank walks back after scooping a load of gravel at a Habitat for Humanity homesite in McMinnville. He usually volunteers Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Doug Cruikshank walks back after scooping a load of gravel at a Habitat for Humanity homesite in McMinnville. He usually volunteers Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Cruikshank marks a section of siding before cutting. His friend and fellow volunteer Cliff Probasco taught him to do things right on the job site — such as “measure twice, cut once.”
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Cruikshank marks a section of siding before cutting. His friend and fellow volunteer Cliff Probasco taught him to do things right on the job site — such as “measure twice, cut once.”
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Cruikshank works on a section of siding at the Habitat for Humanity subdivision on Atlantic Street. He said volunteers usually work on two or three houses at once.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Cruikshank works on a section of siding at the Habitat for Humanity subdivision on Atlantic Street. He said volunteers usually work on two or three houses at once.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##
Cruikshank, right, works to unload gravel to stabilize a muddy patch at a home site. Habitat construction crews work in all kinds of weather -- which is OK by Cruikshank, who enjoys the outdoors.
Rockne Roll/News-Register## Cruikshank, right, works to unload gravel to stabilize a muddy patch at a home site. Habitat construction crews work in all kinds of weather -- which is OK by Cruikshank, who enjoys the outdoors.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: Safe as houses

The dwellings he now helps build are permanent: Habitat for Humanity houses that give their new owners entree to safe and sound homes.

Both kinds improve the lives of their occupants, said Cruikshank, a former Linfield College education professor who once taught wilderness survival in the Linfield Outdoor School program. “Going from renting something that’s not great to owning a Habitat house is like going from a tent to a snow shelter ... so much better.”

That, he said, is the reason he volunteers for Habitat. “To provide safe, affordable housing — that’s the heart of it,” he said.

He finds all the rest of it satisfying as well — everything from joshing with his fellow volunteers to getting to know the future homeowners, who also help with construction, to looking forward to taking a snack break. “We work for cookies,” he joked.

Joking itself is critical to the process, Cruikshank said.

“We have tremendous camaraderie on the job site,” he said. “We laugh at each other — tease, have fun.”

He singled out several by name, including fellow Linfield retiree Howard Leichter and former McMinnville fire marshal Cliff Probasco. All the volunteers are “just a delight,” he said.

While he believes strongly in the cause, he said, the atmosphere and the people “are what really keep me there.”

Cruikshank joined the Habitat crew not long after he retired from Linfield in 2001.

His brother, who works for Habitat in the California Bay Area, suggested he get involved. So he presented himself to Bernie Turner, then the program’s director, at a Habitat build site on Taft Street.

“I didn’t know anything,” Cruikshank said. “I had no construction background.”

Turner pointed to a pile of rebar, the steel rods that form the skeleton inside concrete walls.

“Bernie told me to cut and bend the rebar,” he recalled. “I said, ‘How do you do that?’”

With the help of other volunteers, he soon learned to use a specialized machine to cut and shape rebar for the foundation. He enjoyed gaining and using the new skill, the first of many he’s picked up since becoming a Habitat volunteer.

Not long after he joined Habitat, Cruikshank met Probasco. He said Probasco became a mentor and close friend as they worked side-by-side on numerous builds. 

“Cliff taught me to have a good eye and to do things right,” he said. “Make everything plumb, everything square.”

Probasco emphasized safety, too. And if something isn’t right the first time, to do it again to make it right.

Cruikshank said they follow those practices on every build, including the latest on Atlantic Street, where they usually are working on two or three houses at a time.

They frame one house, then turn to another while professional subcontractors come in to install plumbing, wiring and drywall, and Washington Roofing sends a crew to do the roof. Later, they return for finish work, such as interior painting and trim.

He said framing is his favorite, because, “You see a lot of progress fast.”

“We’re fussy,” Cruikshank noted. “If you make a mistake at the foundation level, if you’re off a half inch, you’d be two inches off at the second floor. Good enough is not good enough.”

Although he hadn’t engaged in construction work before, Cruikshank had skills serving him well on the job site — math skills.

“I guess knowing geometry, having a number sense, helps,” he said. “It’s a peripheral benefit.”

Cruikshank enjoyed math when he was growing up in Eugene.

In sixth-grade, his teacher was a man who was passionate about education. And he said, “I realized this could be a career for me.”

He gained experience working with others, including youngsters, through Boy Scouts. And in high school, he became president of the Future Teachers of America chapter.

Cruikshank enrolled at the University of Oregon with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. After teaching for a short time in Eugene, he returned to school to earn a doctorate, “always with the idea of going back into the classroom,” he said.

He loved working with young kids.

But his professors encouraged him to teach future teachers, instead. “They told me I could impact more children if I taught college,” he recalled.

He spent a decade in Philadelphia, serving as a math professor at Temple University. 

He returned to Oregon in 1978 to teach education at Linfield. He is proud of how the education program developed during his 23 years there.

Over the years, he spent time in all the local schools supervising student teachers. Many local teachers are his former students.  

He’s also taught teachers as part of the Oregon Math Leaders summer conference. He was one of the founders of the McMinnville Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports local public education, as well.

During his years at Linfield, Cruikshank also joined Professor Drannon Hamby in running Linfield’s Jan Term outdoor school.

The program taught wilderness survival in addition to giving students a chance to hike and experience the snowy backcountry. It was based out of the “Lin Cabin,” Linfield’s rustic cabin in the Cascades, which later burned in a forest fire.

Cruikshank is writing a memoir about those wilderness survival days.

But they’re not entirely in the past. He still loves getting out in the wilderness to backpack, ski and camp. He and Hamby usually make one trip a year.

Most of his hiking these days is in warmer months, though. “We’ve done the snow,” he said, and now it’s strictly about enjoyment.

He still hones his extreme survival skills. Recently, he and his grandson practiced building a snow cave in the Santiam Pass.

A few years ago, he and his wife, Linda, hiked the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska. It was a main route for hopeful miners during the Gold Rush.

Unlike the impatient miners, the Cruikshanks waited until summer, when the snow was gone, before hitting the trail. And they still had to contend with car-size boulders in their path.

Linda Cruikshank is also a Habitat volunteer. She’s held a variety of positions.

She currently volunteers in the ReStore on Thursday afternoons. And she’s just as dedicated as her husband. 

They have two daughters, Julie Siepman of McMinnville and Laurie Sauter of Eugene. They have three granddaughters in addition to the snow-cave building grandson.

In addition to visiting their grandkids, they enjoy traveling. Besides Alaska, they’ve been to South Africa, Morocco, Israel and Jordan. 

They’ve also been to Antarctica.

One Oregon winter, they traveled to the southern tip of Argentina, where it was summer. Then they boarded a ship for the 600-mile trip across the Drake Passage and into antarctic waters.

A rubber boat shuttled them from the ship to the icy shore each day. “It was spectacular. So stark, so beautiful,” he said, noting they saw maybe 500,000 penguins.

His wife made a snow angel there, but he didn’t get a chance to build a snow shelter. Maybe next time.

He’d love to make the trip again and stay a couple weeks helping with research. “I like a little adventure,” he said.

One of the Cruikshanks’ biggest adventure came about partly as a result of their involvement with Habitat: They decided to design and build their own home. 

“First we took a paper and ruler and drew it to scale,” Cruikshank said, recalling the many steps of the process. They sketched out a master suite, indoor laundry area, covered deck, sewing room for her and garage shop for him.

“Then Cliff put it through a CAD program,” he said, explaining that his Habitat friend Probasco used his computer to make construction drawings.

After gaining city approval of the plans, the Cruikshanks and Probasco began the year-long construction project.

“It was wonderful,” he recalled. “Cliff and I became closer, and the neighbors came by and talked to us, or brought everyone ice cream covered with blueberries. It was just fun.”

If he hadn’t met Probasco, and hadn’t learned construction skills in Habitat, Cruikshank said he would have never considered building a house of his own.

But volunteering on the Habitat houses gave him confidence, as well as knowledge. “I realized, I could do it,” he said.

Cruikshank often sees new construction volunteers experience the same learning and confidence building process he went through — moving from knowing what a hammer is to knowing how to use one, for instance, or discovering rebar and becoming adept at bending it.

For many volunteers, he said, one of the most exciting moments is learning to use a nail gun.

This power tool, which drives nails with air, makes it possible to work quickly and neatly and “save a whole lot of work,” he said. And it has a satisfying “thwack” sound each time it anchors a 12-penny nail in a 2x4.

Always an educator, Cruikshank enjoys helping other volunteers learn about the nail gun and other tools of the construction trade. He’s still learning himself, and new volunteers often come with new ideas and suggestions for doing things more easily, faster or better.

“You teach constantly, you learn constantly,” he said. 

That goes for the future owners, as well, as they are required to put in “sweat equity” on the job site as part of the process.

Cruikshank, who has also served on the Habitat board, said he enjoys getting to know those owners and working with them side-by-side for several months.

When construction is finished, Habitat holds a ceremony.

“It’s always an emotional point to hand the keys over,” Cruikshank said. 

“When you’re building it, you feel like you’re part of the house. Then you relinquish it and the owner promises to take care of it.”

That, he said, “is very touching.”

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or spointer@newsregister.com.

 

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