By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
MARYSVILLE — Glennis Durham is known for taking care of people, but don’t try to congratulate her on a lifetime of service.
“It’s not so much a matter of me giving, but more that the Lord put me in the right place at the right time,” she says frequently.
Over the years, Durham, 73, has cared for at least 40 foster children. Two of those foster kids are her now-adopted son, Elias, 12, and daughter, Olivia, 10, who she’s raised from infancy. Her oldest five children were reared in Durham’s home state of Virginia. She also helped raise some of her 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. In addition, she counts a son’s friend, a man of 50, as her third adopted child.
“That’s a lot of kids, isn’t it?” Her eyes twinkle as she straightens her dress and her French-braided white hair.
Durham now cares for her 48-year-old daughter, Virginia Oien, who is fighting breast cancer. They share a two-bedroom home in Marysville. The women sleep on the couch or the recliner so that the Durhams’ children and Oien’s daughter can have beds.
Soon, Durham plans to move into a new 1,100-square-foot house provided by Habitat for Humanity of Snohomish County.
Like all Habitat home owners, Durham helped build the house, logging 500 hours of “sweat equity” as a down payment, said Mary Fears, executive director of Habitat in Everett.
“Glennis is very deserving,” Fears said.
On April 20, an open house celebrated the completion of Durham’s home. More than 100 people showed up for the party at her cute, blue house.
“The next day at church, I had people coming up to me telling me how nice the party was,” Durham said. “I asked them, ‘Were you there?’ It had been such an overwhelming event that I didn’t even see all the people.”
The view from her new house is of the valley of farmland between 67th Avenue and Highway 9 in northeast Marysville. It reminds her of home in Virginia.
One of 10 children, Durham remembers her father working in the coal mines to buy land for her grandfather, who had been a sharecropper.
“Then he worked to buy our land and build our house,” Durham said. “I am so thankful for my new house, but I think my favorite place was the one my daddy built.”
Durham moved to Washington in 1989. One of her sons was serving overseas in the Navy and his wife asked Durham to come help with their children.
“My daughter-in-law needed to finish graduate school, so I came West,” she said. “I was needed.”
Durham is waiting for her concrete driveway and walkway to be poured before she moves to the new house.
She has her rose garden planned out. She’ll put her rocker on the front porch and a porch swing on the back. Her long, antique dining room table will dominate the great room, which includes the kitchen and living area.
“The house is such a blessing for me,” Durham said. “It’s like a dream. I can’t even begin to say thank you to everybody.”
Her children are excited to move in, too. They’ll have their own bedrooms.
“Olivia and Elias are my little blessings. My pride and joy,” Durham said. “In the case of each, I was asked to take them just for the night soon after they were born. I’m a little crazy, but of course I was going to do it. I would not trade my kids for the whole world. They are good kids. I am very strict with them and I have always taught all my children to care about other people.”
With that thought, Durham gazes around the empty house and talks about all the young people who volunteered their time to help build it.
“It’s just so amazing all the people who worked on this house,” she said. “And it’s so nice to say I walked across my own doorsill for the first time. Having a house gives you a sense of security. And it’s something I can leave for my kids.”
The house will be a gathering place, said Habitat’s Bruce Richards, one of three project managers on Durham’s house.
“Glennis is the matriarch of a big family,” he said. “She is very special.”
Durham hopes her new home is a place her daughter, Virginia, and her son, Victor, who lives in Lynnwood, and their families will visit often.
“I want everybody to visit,” Durham said. “My door is always open.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Habitat homeowners pay a no-interest mortgage carried by Habitat, which has built 20 homes in Snohomish County and repaired 22 more. Habitat’s out-of-pocket costs for the Durham house were $115,000. Whirlpool donates appliances, Ferguson Enterprises gives the toilets. Other donations came from Yale Locks, Hunter Douglas Blinds, Square D Electrical, Larson Storm Doors, Ramaeu Landscaping and Owens Corning roofs. Volunteers donated 6,200 hours to build the house with the help of a HUD grant administered by Snohomish County. All the other funding is from faith groups, community organizations, corporations and individuals. Project Linus also gave blankets to the Durham family. More info: www.habitatsnohomish.org.