UT Austin BSM students help put a home, life back together after flood
Every house has a history, especially a 100-year-old one. And a history makes a home.
The house at 176 Buster Road saw the birth 84 years ago of Ramona. It’s back in the Appalachian Mountains of far eastern Kentucky. In the summer of 2022, Ramona’s son whisked his mother from the home to safety above the floodwaters of the North Fork Kentucky River.
Since the flood, Ramona has lived with her son. But in the days before Christmas, 10 students from the University of Texas in Austin became a new part of the house’s history as a TBM Disaster Rebuild team.
The students and a Baptist Student Ministry intern jumped in a van immediately after fall finals and headed to Kentucky to help rebuild Ramona’s home. The team spent four full days working in the Millstone, Ky., house. Most of them had no experience in home repair, but Rupert Robbins, TBM associate director of disaster relief, directed their work out of his years of experience as a builder.
“This flood kind of did me in,” said Ramona Taylor. “But the graciousness of God and all of the people here have actually kept me sane. What they have done here is unbelievable, and I cannot thank them enough.”
The house became Ramona’s after her mother’s death years ago. She shared it with her late husband, a decorated U.S. Army Green Beret who had served as part of the honor guard for President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963 and later as sheriff of Letcher County. Buster Road is named for him – Ben “Buster” Taylor – and he is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where he stood by for the burial of the president.
Part of the house’s history is a 13-feet-deep, hand-dug water well. The house is now on a municipal water system, but the well has always provided fresh spring water. The floodwaters topped the well, filling it with mud. The TBM-BSM team cleaned out the well and flushed it repeatedly to get this part of the house to its pre-flood status.
The water well was not essential to the home’s liveability, but it was an important part of Ramona's life story with the house. Its restoration provided emotional relief.
Taylor, a retired teacher, struggled at times with words to express her gratitude. “At this point, there is no way to say thank you,” she said. “I never dreamed that I could receive this, and I know God has a purpose because I lost everything.”
Still, through the devastation, Ramona said, “I gained my health, my life, and so many friends, and so many people who have been so helpful, especially this group here,” referring to the TBM-BSM team. “I have never seen such good-looking, nice gentlemen. . . . And Mr. Rupert and his staff have been unbelievable, and I cannot thank them enough, and I will never forget them.”
As a former educator, Taylor knows that behind every person is a support system. “When I look at them (the volunteers), I think of each of them and what their family has reared, which has been wonderful. It’s not just the boys, but I think of the background of those boys, as well.” And that, she said, includes the church as a foundation.
As for the student volunteers, Adam Bardales, a senior advertising major from Waco, said he had “never been on a mission trip that involved heavy labor, so it’s good to try something new. And I really like seeing progress be made.”
Alex Creel, a senior classics major from Spring, noted that the trip provided a “great opportunity to be able to grow closer to other guys at the student ministry … and to have a shared experience of going through devotionals and doing manual labor together and growing together as one unit.”
Nick Barzilla, the UT graduate and BSM intern who led the group, said: “It’s been an awesome opportunity to serve and to lead this group of guys and get to be the body of Christ. We’ve had lots of different jobs, a lot of different tasks, but we’ve gotten some great work done. It’s been awesome to be able to serve Ramona.”
TBM Disaster Relief involves many trained volunteers that respond to varied callouts for service. Recently, TBM also has been able to involve more volunteers in brief projects, such as the students from the Longhorn BSM.
Robbins presented a Bible to Taylor signed by all of the UT-BSM team. “She commented that she will cherish this copy of God’s Word because of the significance of the love these men showed her. She also asked for signed Bibles for her two sons.
“The young men from the UT BSM are an amazing group,” Robbins said. “Few of them had any construction experience, but they were willing to learn and take direction and work hard. They have made a real difference in Ms. Ramona’s life, and I believe this experience will have a long-term impact on them, as well. Christ has been honored.”