‘Smiling down upon us’ — Group’s volunteer effort repairs late Shelton vet’s home

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON - U.S. Army veteran Stephen Ford put others’ needs above his own - that was his way.

Ford died in 2016 at the age of 60, but his wife, Robbin says the Shelton man’s legacy of looking out for others - whether it was during his tour in the U.S. Army, his time as superintendent of operations at Sikorsky Memorial Airport or just with family and his beloved dog, Ruby - remains alive and well.

“He never boasted about anything, even his beautiful, meticulous yard,” Robbin said of her husband. “He was smart, funny, caring, always looking out for others.”

On Saturday, House of Heroes looked out for Ford’s wife, honoring his military service in the process.

House of Heroes is a nonprofit veterans’ service organization that provides one-day, no-cost home improvements with a priority placed on safety and accessibility. The Connecticut Chapter is part of a national organization based in Georgia that has served more than 1,000 veterans nationwide.

About 20 volunteers from the Connecticut chapter, joined by a contingent from project partner People’s United Bank, visited Ford’s Newport Avenue home Saturday to repair and remember.

“I felt blessed, honored and very grateful,” Robbin said. “I was also feeling how much Steve would be humbled about all the attention. It’s like Stephen is smiling down upon us, looking out for me. I’m sure of it.”

Robbin said she was stunned at how many volunteers came out, and how fast they worked.

“Every single one of them were friendly and happy to help,” she said.

Work began at 8 a.m. and included the installation of railings on the front porch, rebuilding of a side porch and steps, and a large amount of yard work.

“Now my stairs are safe and I don't have to look at the old stairs anymore,” Robbin said, adding that was the area her husband had fallen. “He sends me many signs all the time, and I know he's smiling about everything that (House of Heroes) did for me on Saturday to make our one and only home together safe for me.”

She added that her late husband can once again be proud of his yard’s appearance.

The Ford home was one of two projects that House of Heroes Connecticut tackled Saturday, bringing the number of veterans the organization has honored since its founding in 2012 to 147. The organization also assisted U.S. Army veteran Dennis Cunningham of Orange.

Robbin said her friend, Lisa Pavlich-Kuhn, also of Shelton, saw House of Heroes on the news a year ago and emailed them to nominate her.

“I had never heard of them, until she told me,” Robbin said. “Carol May (of House of Heroes) got back to her immediately and said there is a quite a long waiting list, but I would be put on it. One year later, they were here.”

Stephen Ford was Boston-born and dreamed of becoming an aviator while growing up in North Billerica, Mass. He joined the Army in 1980, trained at the U.S. Army Rotary Wing Flight School at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and became a helicopter pilot. He was stationed in West Germany and served as a chief warrant officer until entering civilian life in 1984.

Following his service, Ford earned an MBA degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He joined Sikorsky Memorial Airport in 1991 and became superintendent of operations in 2006, the position he held when he died.

Ford was instrumental over the years in numerous major airport projects, Robbin said, and the City of Bridgeport honored his service with a memorial marker at the airport. Airport trucks are also emblazoned with “In Memory of Stephen Ford” and an American flag.

Robbin's memories of her husband include his love of flying and barbecuing, all the trips the pair took over the years, his desire to help other veterans, and his undying love for the couple’s beagle, Ruby, who she believes he was carrying when he fell.

“His last heroic action was to save her from hitting her head. She was 16 1/2 and they were hooked at the hip,” Robbin said. “I always tell the story of him taking her to the airport one day years ago and the FAA came to survey the runways. He told the three men, ‘Ruby is my right seat pilot, so you guys have to sit in the back - and they did. We laughed about that for years.”

Robbin said perhaps Ford’s greatest accomplishment over the course of his Sikorsky Airport career was his mentoring of young aviation professionals - or “his aces” as he liked to call them. Several, according to Robbin, have gone on to accomplished careers in the aviation industry.

“Every day I wake up and wonder how I’ve made it through these past five years without him,” she says. “He would do anything for anyone and so many people have so lovingly spoken of him since his passing. I knew how wonderfully kind and giving of his time he was but didn’t know the magnitude of how many lives he touched.”

For more information about House of Heroes Connecticut, to nominate a veteran, to sponsor or volunteer for a project, or to simply donate to the cause, visit hohct.org.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com