'Burn it down!' Trash talk about retiree's house inspires one man, then a community, to step in

Josh Cyganik and Leonard Bullock. (Via Union Pacific Railroad)
·Homes Editor
Before. (Photo via Josh Cyganik's Facebook page)
Before. (Photo via Josh Cyganik's Facebook page)
After. (Photo via Josh Cyganik's Facebook page)
After. (Photo via Josh Cyganik's Facebook page)

We should all have neighbors like this. (Better yet, we should all be neighbors like this.)

Josh Cyganik maintains tracks for Union Pacific Railroad's western region. Every workday for four years, he'd meet his colleagues at a spot along the main line in Pendleton, Oregon, and every day, he'd wave to an elderly man sitting on a front porch across the street — though they never spoke, not even to exchange names.

But one day in July, Cyganik was at work when he heard a pair of teenagers walk past the house. "They were on [the older man's] side of the road," he related to his friends on Facebook, "and I heard them from where I was. They said loud enough for me to hear: 'Look at this crappy house! They just need to burn it down!'

"I looked at the old man sitting on the porch with his head down, and it got me thinking. I went to Brian Christensen at Tum-A-Lum Lumber and asked him if he would be willing to donate paint to repaint his house to make it look better! And he agreed. So I'm asking if anyone that wants to help this Saturday to volunteer their time to help paint this gentleman's house!"

Leonard Bullock and his wife, Dorothy, left, with some of the dozens of volunteers who came out. (Photo via the Facebook page of Holly Johnson Cyganik, Josh's wife)
Leonard Bullock and his wife, Dorothy, left, with some of the dozens of volunteers who came out. (Photo via the Facebook page of Holly Johnson Cyganik, Josh's wife)

Cyganik learned that Bullock is 75 and, as a retired forklift driver, didn't have enough money to fix up the house. Furthermore, Cyganik wrote on Facebook, "he told me he doesn't have insurance on his house because they won't insure it because of the way it looks! So hopefully by doing this it'll help."

The response was phenomenal. "My Facebook is private, but the post blew up like wildfire," he told the Union Pacific Community Ties blog. It was shared more than 6,000 times — and the event itself "turned out awesome!" he wrote in a Facebook update. He told Union Pacific that by the end of the day, more than 100 people had shown up.

Volunteers not only painted the house; they also bought furniture for the porch and started building a new porch. The roof is in progress, too.

Kids came out to help, too. Here, volunteers give Bullock's yard decor a coat of fresh paint. (Photo via Holly Johnson Cyganik's Facebook page)
Kids came out to help, too. Here, volunteers give Bullock's yard decor a coat of fresh paint. (Photo via Holly Johnson Cyganik's Facebook page)

It couldn't have happened to a nicer man, either, according to one of Bullock's former co-workers. "He is the absolute sweetest old man ever," Kari Rodriguez told Cyganik. "It's been 10 years since I worked with him, and to this day he smiles huge and says hi to me. I see him every winter ringing the Salvation Army bell at Safeway, and just last week I noticed him out front of his house working his butt off mowing the yard."

As for Cyganik, he shrugs off the idea that he did anything particularly special. When one Facebook commenter told him, "This truly makes my heart smile and my eyes leak tears of joy," he replied: "Thank you for the very nice kind words! But anyone would have done it."

He said the same in his company's blog post. "I'm not a hero; I just heard something that bothered me.

"Anyone would have done the same thing. Everyone has it in their heart to do things like this."

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