Volunteers from United Way & Wolverine Pipe Line Company help retired police officer battling cancer make home improvements

By Kelsey Hammon

BUCHANAN — When Richard Heminger, 78, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of esophageal cancer in February, he quickly became too sick to tend to the flourishing yard and fruit trees he had been cultivating at his Buchanan home for about 18 years.

Heminger is a retired Berrien County Sheriff’s lieutenant commander who spent 40 years patrolling the south part of the county. Overall, he has about 50 years of experience in law enforcement. His wife Connie said her husband was dedicated to giving back to his Berrien County community through his career.

But on Friday, the community found a way to give back to Heminger through the annual Day of Caring.

The annual volunteer day is a partnership between the Berrien County Cancer Service, United Way of Southwest Michigan and Wolverine Pipeline – an energy transportation company. Each year, the Berrien County Cancer Service identifies a local cancer patient and sends volunteers to their residence to help them complete household chores and tasks that illness often makes too difficult.

David Brooks, the utility service operator for Wolverine Pipeline, said the company sees Day of Caring as an opportunity to give back to their community. 

“We have petroleum running through our pipelines, but care running through our hearts,” Brooks said.

Heminger lives in the Buchanan countryside, surrounded by rolling farmlands and densely wooded areas. When he and Connie bought the property, it was covered in an expanse of thick woods. Heminger cleared some of the property and landscaped it so that he could grow fruit trees, a lush lawn and flowers. 

On Friday about 10 volunteers showed up to help beautify the yard that has long been Heminger’s pride and joy. They completed landscaping work, laid out fresh mulch, repaired cracks in the driveway, power washed his home and built Heminger a 10-foot ramp for a power generator that is stored in the couple’s garage. Because they live in the countryside, power outages are frequent and the generator is often needed. Before the ramp, Heminger, had to drag the generator down a 1-foot step. Volunteers will also return to Heminger’s residence to re-paint a structure in his backyard.

Since his diagnosis in February, Heminger has lost more than 100 pounds. Every other week, he endures about 52 hours of chemotherapy. In April, he had a surgery to remove his esophagus. Since October, Heminger said working in the yard became too difficult. The couple has two sons, one who lives in the area and helps when he can, but it was still a lot of work for one person to do.

Despite having finished his chemotherapy treatment the day before, Heminger was parked outside on his front lawn in his wheelchair, taking in his landscaped yard.

“I am so thankful for these guys,” Heminger said. “I have had a good life. Berrien County has treated me the best. Berrien County Cancer has treated me great. Wolverine Pipeline, they are out of this world.”

David Brooks, a utility station operator at Pipeline, said his company has been participating in a Day of Caring for at least 10 years. For the past couple of years, the company has worked with Berrien County Cancer Services to identify a person in need. Brooks said they could not have found a better candidate to help. 

“So many people give so much in their lives, just like him,” Brooks said. “He gave a lot to his community through the police service he provided all those years. No one plans to get cancer. When it comes, you just can no longer do the things that you did or want to do.”

Standing by her husband’s side Friday, Connie also expressed her gratitude for volunteers help.

“If you think there are not good people in the world, you should be at our house this morning,” Connie said. “There are angels here on earth and they are right here.