Rotary lauds Mickey Heinecken for his Habitat work

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Rotary Club recently awarded a combined total of $44,500 in grants to local charitable causes and paid its highest tribute to former Middlebury College football Coach Michael G. “Mickey” Heinecken for his contributions to Habitat for Humanity of Addison County.
Kathleen Nilsson, who chairs Middlebury Rotary’s Charitable Assessment Committee, said the largest of the 20 grant awards — for $12,000 — was awarded to John Graham Housing & Services. The Vergennes-based nonprofit operates a homeless shelter, transitional housing and other services for low-income folks with no place to stay.
Other awards, ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, went to such organizations as the Addison County Parent/Child Center, Elderly Services/Project Independence, the Vermont Folklife Center and Friend of Middlebury Hockey.
Rotary announced and distributed the grants at its gala held at the Middlebury Inn on June 14.
Middlebury Rotary has now made almost $58,000 in charitable donations this year, according to Nilsson.
The club’s motto is “service above self,” and Middlebury Rotary each year bestows its Stephen A. Freeman Award on a local person in the community who personifies that credo. This year the award went to Heinecken, who joined Habitat for Humanity of Addison County in 2012 as it began building its sixth home. He’s helped the organization finish five more homes, and another two are in the works on property at 51 Seymour St. in Middlebury.
Heinecken joined Habitat’s board of directors in 2014, becoming its president in 2016.
Habitat for Humanity International is an organization that builds basic, affordable homes in partnership with families who have no possibility of obtaining a dwelling through conventional means. The organization sells the new homes to the partner families for cost, kept low by using volunteer labor. Construction supply stores often sell materials to Habitat projects at a reduced price. And the partner families are expected to physically participate in the construction of their homes, a practice known as “sweat equity.”
Longtime Rotarian and Habitat member Roth “T” Tall gave Heinecken a nice introduction prior to the award presentation.
“As most of you know, Habitat for Humanity is a multi-faceted organization,” Tall said. “There are complex schedules to maintain, materials to order on time and within budget, relationships with vendors, the media, other affiliate chapters and the National itself. On top of which the president must deal with a local board of some 16 volunteers, … each of whom has a role in finance, development, family selection, construction, and the like. Not content to sit back and delegate, Mickey provides a hands-on style of leadership which in turn ensures that we all accomplish the tasks we’ve agreed to undertake.”
Tall was the chief conspirator in concealing the award news from Heinecken until moments before he received it. Tall and his accomplices had invited Heinecken to the meeting to talk about his Habitat for Humanity activities. So he had dutifully prepared notes for the occasion.
But instead of speaking, Heinecken got to hear a lot of nice things about himself from a lot of different people, including fellow Habitat volunteers.
“Surprises are only good when they work, and this one was pulled off exceedingly well,” Heinecken chuckled during a Thursday phone interview.
“Thank goodness I didn’t spend two hours working on my speech.”
He recounted how Habitat had filled a void in his life after his coaching career had ended.
“When I retired from football, my wife questioned what I would do,” Heinecken recalled. “I didn’t have any set goals.”
He found his calling with Habitat, an organization that has provided an outlet for his creativity and industriousness in the same “team” environment he enjoyed for so many years with football coaching.
“I feel I’ve re-entered the team experience,” Heinecken said. “Habitat only functions because there’s a team of very dedicated people, all working toward the same goal.”
It’s a team that makes a lot of people happy — including the Habitat volunteers themselves.
“I get satisfaction from seeing a piece of land that’s raw, then six months later seeing it (hosting) a wonderful house,” Heinecken said. “It brings personal satisfaction.”
He said he was honored to receive the Freeman Award, but shared the accolade with his teammates.
“Individuals get singled out, but it’s meaningless if you don’t have your team around you,” he said.
Middlebury Rotary also honored one of its own: Former Ilsley Library Director David Clark, who received the group’s Buster Brush Award for community service.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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