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Habitat volunteer going on ‘Today’ show

By Staff | Apr 15, 2015

In his 26 years of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Harold Elsesser has never been one for patting himself on the back or speaking about himself.

On Thursday, he’s not going to have much of a choice as he’s going to New York to appear on the Today show to talk about just that, with some help from a Habitat employee.

The last time Elsesser was in New York was as a teen for 1939 World’s Fair.

Elsesser was expected to fly into New York this morning for his appearance Thursday with Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on Thursday, among other things, before flying home that night and returning to work Friday morning on a home he and his crew have been working on in Cape Coral.

Kathy Lee and Hoda do a segment every three months called “Everyone Has a Story,” featuring someone with an amazing story. Savannah Milton said the producers of the “Today” show learned about Elsesser and reached out to her after she sent a news story about him.

“When I told him, he’s the most humble, selfless guy I’ve ever met. He was like ‘They want to recognize me?'” Milton said. “He doesn’t realize how amazing he is. So he was shocked and honored to be able to go.”

The segment is expected to run at around 10:40 a.m. Hoda and Kathy Lee will have their work cut out for them, as Elsesser is loathe to talk about himself.

“It’s kind of out of my style. I’m not used to the spotlight. I’m more of the bashful type,” Elsesser said Tuesday afternoon at his Cape Coral home. “It’s just another thing.”

Elsesser will be joined by Becky Sanders-Lucas, director of development for Habitat for Humanity of Lee & Hendry Counties, who said Elsesser didn’t want to do it at first.

“I’ve been here for 15 years, so if he gets stuck, I can help him out,” Sanders-Lucas said. “When he first learned about this, he didn’t want to do it. It was a flat no, but he changed his mind.”

The pair was to fly out at 8 a.m. non-stop to New York. Elsesser said he last took an airplane 10 to 15 years ago to see family in State College, Penn. It didn’t go well.

“They had two schedules on the wall and I looked at one and decided I had lots of time to go to the bathroom. I missed my plane,” Elsesser said. “Someone was waiting for me to drive me home. I haven’t flown since.”

They will be in a hotel near “30 Rock” and meet the producer of the segment upon arrival before having the rest of the day to themselves, Sanders-Lucas said.

They will go to the studio around 9 a.m. and watch the show from the green room before going onstage for a five-minute segment.

Elsesser last went to New York City when he was a paperboy in Pennsylvania in 1939 and learned it was an entirely different world.

“I got on the subway and took an elevator to my hotel. You would be running around all over the place today.” Elsesser said.

Following his appearance, the show will honor Elsesser for appearing by giving him a private tour of the USS Intrepid, the ship Elsesser served on during World War II and which is now docked in New York Harbor in Manhattan as a historic landmark.

From there, he goes home and back to work Friday to install two doors, the way he wants it.

“He said he would be right back out there, but I told Harold he could call in,” Sanders-Lucas said.

Elsesser, a 50-year resident of Cape Coral who turned 91 last Thursday, is the longest running continuous volunteer at Habitat next to former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn.

Just last month, Elsesser was honored by the local Habitat for Humanity chapter by having a Habitat home in North Fort Myers named in his honor, which had never been done in the history of the organization.

“We just could not be any happier for Harold and this experience to find out what he’s done for us and inspire others to do it in the future,” Milton said.

I’m honored that we’re going to be on together. It’s really special,” Sanders-Lucas said before turning to Harold and saying. “It will be an amazing culmination of your service and your story inspires a lot of people, so you’re doing a lot of good.”