By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

If there is such a thing as fate, maybe its fickle finger led Jon Gehm back to Salem just in time to lend a hand at the Oregon School for the Deaf Extreme Makeover: Home Edition build.

Gehm graduated from the school in 1970, but left the area for decades to pursue his calling as a traveling evangelist for Deaf Ministries Worldwide.

“I moved back because my children decided to move back and I arrived on Aug. 27,” said Gehm, who set down stakes in Keizer. It was mere days before OSD was announced as the build site.

Of the many volunteers at the site, Gehm was one of the several deaf volunteers who found ways to chip in during the build.

For Gehm and his son Daniel, who acted as interpreter during the interview, helping out meant mostly cleaning up the site as debris piled up during the whirlwind construction schedule, but he also got to hang doors with as part of the work crew.

“I didn’t think it could be done in one week,” Gehm said. “But what they did there was wonderful and awesome.”

Marion Rich, another deaf volunteer and Keizer resident, also pitched in cleaning up the site. Rich was present at the picnic with her brother, a teacher at OSD, and partner who works there as well, when the EMHE trailers pulled up.

Rich was most impressed with the level of environmental considerations as she worked the site.

“The things they did to make it environmentally friendly, like growing grass on the roof, are awesome,” Rich said. “But the coolest thing to see was all the different technologies they were installing to assist in communications between deaf students and with the hearing world.”

Rich was also a lucky recipient of free hearing aids provided by Starkey. The hearing aid producer was on hand to custom fit and order hearing devices.

Rich, who’s thinking about retirement, last wore hearing aids as a teenager.

“I did not like the sounds they would make, it made my eyes hurt and I would get dizzy. I threw them away,” Rich said.

Free is free, however, so she decided to give them another chance.

A week after the fitting, her new hearing aids arrived and she heard things she hadn’t in years, including the sound of her own voice.

“They told me to go out and walk around and the first thing I heard was a motorcycle going down the street,” Rich said.

In the weeks since, it’s been like rediscovering sound.

“Even opening up a bottle of pills, it’s awesome and amazing. Digital hearing aids are just the best,” she said.