VALDOSTA -- Valdosta-Lowndes County Habitat for Humanity is one step closer to eliminating substandard housing in the area because of the love for a local retired banker.

Saturday, a group including bankers and volunteers came to support the dedication of a house in honor of Don Schutt.

Schutt, 73, retired from banking in 1998 from Valdosta Bank and Trust, which is now part of RegionsBank, after 50 years in the field. He began at age 17 in the mail room of a bank in Nashville, Tenn., his hometown. The majority of the men and women he trained have now moved on to become CEOs, presidents and vice presidents of banks.

Ansel Clark, CEO of Guardian Bank, worked under Don Schutt for 15 years.

"We all support the cause of Habitat," Clark said. "Don means so much to all of us. We are supporting this project in honor of him."

Schutt was also active in the community. He volunteered and served with many different boards and organizations. He was the chairman of Chamber of Commerce, president of the Valdosta Country Club twice, chairman of United Way twice, spent 18 years on the Board of Valdosta Housing Authority, served as chairman of Valdosta State University Foundation on three occasions and was involved in many more activities.

After an article about Schutt's contributions to the community appeared in Valdosta Magazine in Fall 2003, Kaye Smith said she thought it would be nice to dedicate a house in honor of him.

Stewart Mullis, executive director for Habitat, said when he approached folks about the idea, it sounded like a machine gun. "It was yes, yes, yes, yes, yes," Mullis said during the dedication ceremony.

Schutt's wife Ann said when he found out about the dedication, he was in tears.

"He is very emotional about any sort of honor like that," Ann Schutt said. "Don loves Valdosta. He loves to see Valdosta do good things. "

In 2000, Don Schutt had a debilitating stroke that caused him to loose his speech.

"It was physically devastating," Ann Schutt said.

Ann Schutt said the dedication is meaningful because it is to benefit the community.

"One of the things that has been so meaningful, I think to Don and to me, is that people have wanted to show that they care about him, and he's been able to see that," Ann Schutt said. "And they wanted to do that while he was alive. Plus what they are doing is passing on a tradition of community involvement. And each of those men he trained, they have continued that tradition, and I think that is pleasing to him."

As he sat in front of 1,100-square foot house on Burrows Lane during the dedication ceremony, Don Schutt wore a smile.

"We dedicate the house to the family that is going to be in this house and the child that will be raised in this house because, Don, you helped raised us up," Mullis said.

Although the house isn't finished and a family hasn't been assigned to the home, Mullis invited people to take a tour of "The Schuttzie House", a nickname acquired during a game of golf.

As J.R. Hennly Jr., who worked for 22 years for Schutt, entered the house he stopped, rested a hand on Schutt's shoulder and said, "We love you boss. We really do."

A few years ago, Smith said, a VSU study showed more than 900 substandard houses in the area.

Since then, Habitat has built 117.

"We have a staggering problem here," Smith said. "It is just unbelievable the conditions some people live in. We just have to keep on keeping on."

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