Bob Lee: Serving 45 years as a Habitat volunteer

Photo courtesy Leah Ballard
Habitat for Humanity of Archuleta County board member Bob Lee has volunteered for the organization since 1977. 

By Leah Ballard | Habitat for Humanity of Archuleta County

Habitat for Humanity of Archuleta County board member Bob Lee has been involved with Habitat for Humanity since 1977. At that time, he worked with volunteers in San Jose, Calif., collecting aluminum cans and donated clothing to raise funds for future build projects. 

The group was getting organized to become an official Habitat for Humanity affiliate, like Habitat Archuleta has been since 1994. The Lees helped organize the very first Habitat affiliate on the West Coast, which obtained its affiliate status in 1983 in San Jose, Calif.

“I remember keeping a plastic bag in the car to stop and pick up cans on my way home from work,” Lee said. 

Their Methodist church group was led by Pastor Jack Tokayangi, who went on to be a board member of our umbrella organization, Habitat International, though the 1980s. Pastor Jack became a household name for Habitat. Another member of that church group became the attorney for Habitat International, “even though Millard [Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity] was an attorney himself,” said Lee.

After their contributions in San Jose, the Lees moved to Tuscon, Ariz., in 1981. They arrived in Tuscon the same day the founder of Habitat for Humanity, Fuller, was speaking at the local university. The Lees attended the lecture and met Fuller for the first time. 

It wasn’t long before Sherry, Lee’s late wife, joined the board of directors of Habitat Tuscon. The affiliate was gifted a parcel of land to build on by the local government, much like Habitat Archuleta today. The next time Sherry Lee spoke to Fuller, he had flown to Tuscon to confront the affiliate about accepting a donation from a government entity.

One point of distinction for the Habitat organization is that we are supported by our neighbors and community, not exclusively relying on government funding. That is true here at Habitat Archuleta. We have an incredible base of community volunteers, subcontractors who partner with us, as well as support from our local government.

One of our core community volunteers is Bob Lee, who has worked on our job sites since moving here in 1995. Bob Lee is also on our board of directors through the end of 2022 and is currently considering his role going forward.

At meetings, we pause to hear Bob Lee’s take on how the organization changes as we grow. He is an adamant supporter of the Habitat families. 

“I never had a hard life,” said Bob Lee. 

He explained that he works with Habitat to give those people who may have had a rougher start than he did. Bob Lee considers his votes as a board member thoughtfully and speaks deliberately. We are lucky to have him in our corner at Habitat Archuleta.

In a recent video interview, set to debut after the holiday season, administrative staff recruited some of Habitat Archuleta’s partnering families from our earlier build seasons, almost 20 years ago. Leonard and Barbra Noriega still remember working late hours into the evenings and on the weekends alongside Bob Lee.

Leonard Noriega recalled putting in many hours finishing the work on his home, with Bob Lee as his construction partner on all the finishing touches on their home that winter. It’s the same home they live in today.

Another one of our contributors, Colton Hutchenson, stumbled upon Habitat by accident while working on a nearby project in 2018. Hutchenson was working on new construction near the 2004 Habitat Archuleta build, where Bob Lee worked as a volunteer on the site.

Lo and behold, Bob Lee was still working on-site in 2018 when Hutchenson gently dug up the electrical line to a Habitat home on Snow Court. Who knew it was possible to excavate gently? 

Hutchenson reported that, while the line had been buried at the appropriate depth, it was a straight shot to the transformer and directly across his build envelope. This is why we hire professionals to handle the placement of our utility lines today.

Hutchenson assisted in the relocation of the utility lines on Snow Court and still works on Habitat builds to this day, alongside our lifelong volunteer, Bob Lee.

We have come a long way as a Habitat affiliate since Bob and Sherry Lee first started volunteering with us. Habitat Archuleta has built roughly one home per year for 28 years. Now we’re building 15 homes in five years. Come join us on the jobsite and start your own Bob Lee legacy.