By Erika Webb
Many people will jump through hoops to be of service. Not too many are willing to jump out of airplanes to do so -- certainly not at 98 years old and legally blind.
Surrounded by pictures of people, dogs, bridges, buildings and inspirational passages, Donald Sugg sat at a large desk, a ball cap emblazoned with the words "positive thinking" poised on his head, rooting through file folders. They are the chronicles of his life -- career, travel, education, causes and all that interests him. There's no end to what interests him.
Anticipating a change in residence, Mr. Sugg went to the Neighborhood Center in DeLand armed with dishes, pots and pans to donate. Ever curious he began to look around and inquire about what they do there.
"I'm always up to something," Mr. Sugg said. "I wanted to see what they were doing, the good they intended to do and the importance of it."
He learned about The Heart House, the emergency-housing facility designed for multiple families, which Neighborhood Center employees, volunteers and community partners have been working to open since last fall.
"I have a habit of opening my mouth when I shouldn't," Mr. Sugg said, grinning. "I told them if they would raise a certain amount of money from corporate sponsors I would jump for them. I saw the possibility they had of feeding the homeless."
On Sunday, May 25, there will be a fundraising event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Skydive DeLand. Mr. Sugg will participate in a tandem jump to raise awareness for homeless and struggling families and to raise money for The Heart House.
Patty Rivera, a case manager at The Neighborhood Center, said so far $130,000 has been garnered. The overall fundraising goal is $200,000.
"We're anticipating opening in mid- to late June," Ms. Rivera said. "All of the major renovations are completed and it's looking good. But we're still in desperate need of furnishings."
The property also needs fencing and a safe playground for the kids who will live there, and there will be ongoing operating expenses.
The Neighborhood Center's executive director, Susan Clark, said it will cost around $25,000 a year to operate The Heart House.
"That's a guesstimate based on four other houses we have for adults and women with children," Ms. Clark said. "This is the first whole-family house."
Ms. Clark said the center is forced to turn away at least 12 families a week.
"There continues to be such a high need for emergency shelter in West Volusia; our task continues to be sustainability" she said. "Some of our (housing) is fee for service but this emergency shelter is not. Obviously folks are homeless because they don't have any money for an apartment or motel."
Mr. Sugg said he's been fundraising for one cause or another for 56 years.
One of the many scrawled and printed notifications he has tacked to his walls reads: "In God I trust. I want cash from everyone else."
It hangs above the one that reads: "Pity parties not allowed."
Mr. Sugg worked mainly as an industrial commercial contractor in and around Toledo, Ohio. When he retired he went to college.
"I don't know if you want to put it in the story, but I spent time in the Ohio State Penitentiary," he said. He waited for the words to register, before continuing. "I spent one hour there, on a tour. I sat in the electric chair. I was just fortunate they didn't turn the juice on."
Poor eyesight kept Mr. Sugg out of the service, but he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, earning $30 monthly during the Great Depression.
As a contractor he owned one company with two names: ACME Co. and ACME Painting.
"It was the same outfit for different jobs," he said.
ACME Co. handled the larger jobs -- buildings and bridges. ACME Painting executed smaller projects.
Though poor eyesight was a fact of his life from birth, Mr. Sugg completely rejected the word "handicap."
"I wouldn't let something like that stop me," he said. "All I had to do was hire somebody that had the know-how."
"It caused me to drive," he added.
"To drive myself, force myself to go do things," he said, laughing.
"I hope I never see any better than I do right now," he added. "Everybody looks good right now."
Some of his many folders contain countless letters from dogs. Mr. Sugg began to train dogs when he was 25. He raised seeing-eye dogs and fostered dogs in need.
"They're so much like a human being, like a child," he said. "It depends on the time you put into them."
He's walked for Alzheimer's, cancer, The Arc. He's raised money for service dogs, helped deliver Meals on Wheels. He's reluctant to list them all.
"As a kid I didn't sit and do nothing," he explained. "I didn't spend all my time on the back side of my lap, doing nothing."
He has been to almost every state in the nation, Alaska four times. He's traveled throughout South America and Central America, trips inspired by his study of the Andes Indians at International College in Naples -- in his late 80s.
"If we were supposed to stay in one place, God would have put roots on our feet," he said. "I don't stay in one spot."
Recently he got a letter from the college he attended, now called Hodges University, inviting him to return to sit in on classes.
Mr. Sugg was 82 the first time he experienced skydiving. His sisters, then 80 and 84, went with him. He said he's gone up to three times a year since then.
"Do you smell marijuana?" he said. "I haven't smoked marijuana yesterday or today," he said -- once again pausing for effect. "And I haven't tried it."
He's good at this.
Mr. Sugg has a business card on his desk. It reads: "Donald Sugg -- Procrastinator, Agitator, Prevaricator -- No money, No use, No ambition, No prospects -- Have time, will travel."
He's excited about the upcoming jump.
"It's a thrill that you get up there," he said. "You have a feeling of freedom up there. There's nobody up against you."
Figuratively speaking since he's tandem jumping.
"What I've been trying to do is pay back for some of the good life I've had," Mr. Sugg said. "I've had an exceptionally good life."
Thinking back to the bridges he worked on as a contractor, Mr. Sugg said, "There's something about them."