‘Everyone Has a Story’: Habitat volunteer feted on the Today show
Cape Coral resident Harold Elsesser has not been one to brag about his accomplishments, and when he made his appearance Thursday on the “Today” show with Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, nothing really changed.
So they did all the bragging for the Habitate For Humanity, in ways he couldn’t possibly imagine.
Producers of the show went the whole nine yards to honor Elsesser, 91, during the show’s “Everyone Has a Story,” segment during the three-segment block devoted to him. In words, in video tributes, in song and in the surprises they had in store for him.
He was celebrated for not only his 26 years of service to Habitat for Humanity of Lee & Hendry Counties, but for the way he has done it.
It was done with a stirring letter recital from Becky Sanders-Lucas, director of development for Habitat for Humanity of Lee & Hendry Counties, who joined Elsesser for the segment.
“Harold’s life has been an example of service. Because he never boasts about his accomplishments, I have had to learn about him through his stories.” Sanders-Lucas wrote in her letter to the show. “We love Harold because he is the type of person we all aspire to be. Every bit of energy and skill he has, he has shared to benefit others. He hasn’t wasted a day.”
When Gifford asked how he felt a week after his birthday, Elsesser said “Old,” to which Gifford retorted, “Ninety is the new middle age,” in reference to a previous segment.
It gives me something to do and help somebody. It gives me a purpose to get up in the morning,” Elsesser said, with Gifford helping out in the end.
Sanders-Lucas did much of the talking. She praised Elsesser and about “Harold’s Group,” the volunteers who work under him, some for more than 20 years.
“These are people he didn’t ask to join him, but by virtue of who he is and what he represents, they have worked alongside him,” Sanders-Lucas said, followed by a video tribute from his group, as well as from those he has helped, including Luis Ortiz and Maria Rivera and family, whose home was dedicated last month in his honor.
They also performed a special song written just for Harold, “One Story at a Time” sung by Broadway’s John Jellison and written by David Friedman and Gifford.
Finally, they gave Elsesser a belated surprise for his 91st birthday including cake, a hero’s welcome and VIP tour of the USS Intrepid, which he served on during World War II and is now a museum docked in New York Harbor, as well as a new set of tools from Lowe’s.
“I don’t think they remember me,” Elsesser said regarding the tour.
Regarding their exit Thursday night, he said he had to be home Friday morning.
“I have to go back to Habitat and put the doors in,” Elsesser said.
Sanders-Lucas summed up the trip.
“It was an amazing experience because the people at the Today Show were so kind to us,” she said.
During a commercial break, Gifford said Elsesser reminded her of her father, “the best man she had ever known,” according to Sanders-Lucas, adding Gifford also said over and over what a privilege it was to have him in the studio.
Elsesser also enjoyed his birthday tribute.
“To see Harold’s face when he saw the Intrepid for the first time was just indescribable,” Sanders-Lucas said.
“We weren’t there long before he turned into the tour guide. He was telling our tour guide what it was like to be on the ship during World War II.”
“The entire experience from beginning to end was perfect,” she said.