Dorothy Mullins

Dorothy Mae Mullins smiles as she washes her hands.

PETERSTOWN, W.Va. — This holiday season will be a special one for a Monroe County woman, who can now take a hot shower for the first time in 48 years and not have to use an outhouse.

Dorothy Mae Mullins, 67, saw her life change last week after work was finished on a well and a new indoor bathroom for her small, 200-plus-year-old farmhouse, located just north of Peterstown.

“I am so grateful,” she said as she was getting ready to flush a commode for the first time in decades and look forward to not having to heat up water on her wood stove to take a bath and wash dishes. “I appreciate this so much.”

She said not much had changed on the house from the time the original logs behind the walls were still visible.

The only water she had was from a nearby spring, which had a pipe running cold water into the house. An outhouse stands almost a football field away from the house, a trip she no longer needs to make on cold winter mornings or at night.

“It ain’t very nice going out there and using it after dark, especially when those bears are here,” she said, adding that she is happy she can now tear down that outhouse.

Mullins moved into the house 48 years ago when it was bought by her late partner, a man she said she never married.

“You couldn’t get him to do anything,” she said. “I am the type of person I didn’t ask for help, and I didn’t want to.

“I guess it’s because I am little bit stubborn or whatever.”

That lone pipe from the spring, ironically, is the reason her life has been changed by a group of benevolent community members.

“It froze up in January,” she said, leaving her without any water.

Mullins, who has a meager income from SSI benefits, had not planned to ask for help, but that changed after meeting with an acquaintance, Sandi Bowling.

“Pastor Becky (Van Stavern, pastor of Peterstown United Methodist Church) had called me and said she had a member of the community that donated some money for anyone that needed help,” Bowling said. “I just happened to see Dorothy that day and I asked her if she needed any help with anything. That is when she told us about her frozen water line and some heating tape would help.”

Bowling then asked another member of the church, Steve Boothe, to check it out.

Boothe, who also knew Mullins on a casual basis, called another church member, Fred Terry, and they went to her house.

What Boothe saw shocked him.

“We had no clue what was going on there,” he said. “It (the water pipe) didn’t have much pressure and it was all cold water. That’s when we found out she did not have a bathroom or hot water heater or anything else.”

When Boothe saw the other needs and the outhouse, he kicked into gear “immediately.”

“We asked for help,” he said, and the help came. “We’ve been blessed with the people who have come out. Any time we needed help, people showed up.”

He, Bowling and his wife Donna Boothe started raising money for the project.

“Every time we have contacted a church, they have agreed to give us money,” he said. “We had one church donate $1,000 to McKenzies (lumber company in Rich Creek) to pay for materials. They have been very good to work with.”

Boothe also contacted Michelle McFall, head of the county’s Family Resource Network, who got the ball rolling on finding grants.

“We got CASE (Community Action of South East West Virginia) involved too,” McFall said. “They got the U.S. Department of Rural Development involved.”

But it was Boothe who kept the pace, she added.

“Steve put that together and there’s been a team of people who have come in and a couple of agencies to get funding started,” she said. “He is the one making sure everything gets done. He’s an excellent team leader.”

McFall said most people don’t think anyone these days lives in houses without indoor plumbing and a bathroom.

“There’s probably more people like Dorothy than people care to think about in Monroe County,” she said. “It takes someone to step up and say, ‘Let’s get if fixed.’ That is what happened. Steve tackled it.”

McFall said Boothe took Mullins “under his wing.”

Donna Boothe, who also knew Mullins casually, agreed that no one thinks about these living conditions.

“In this day and time you just don’t think anyone is living like that,” she said, adding it’s been a pleasure getting to know Mullins.

“I knew who you were, but I didn’t get to know you,” she told Mullins. “Now, I know you.”

Boothe said it’s a matter of getting to know people better to find out if they need anything. “They don’t want to ask for help.”

“We were amazed when we learned,” Bowling said of hearing about what Steve Boothe and Terry had found. “How could this woman be living out here in this house without a bathroom and running water in her house in this day and time?”

Bowling agreed with Boothe that people don’t know what others may need and don’t take the time to find out.

“But when we find out, it’s just amazing how many people want to help,” she said.

But the work was not always smooth sailing.

Donna Booth said they had purchased a holding tank for the spring in order to store water and provide the pressure to feed it into the house, but the spring had dried up.

That’s when they realized they would have to dig a well.

“Dorothy had been drinking surface water because her spring had gone dry, so then we had to find a source of water,” Boothe said. “We are now in the process of raising money for the well. We’ve raised $4,000 but don’t yet know what the final cost will be. When we find out how much it’s going to cost, we will reach out to other churches.”

How water was found surprised her, she added.

“The guy who came out here used a witching stick,” she said, referring to a pronged stick that will bend toward the ground when it somehow detects water underneath. “It worked.”

But it took three tries and three different types of wood.

The cherry wood stick did the trick, she said, bending down forcefully, and that is where they dug.

“He hit water at 150 feet,” she said. “But he went down to 220 feet so it could have a reservoir.”

Mullins was involved in helping hold the stick.

“He had me and Steve hold one side of it and it would pull you right over,” Mullins said. “We felt it.”

Boothe said the man told her that he “won’t lie to you” and over the years he has missed a few and dug dry wells.

But it worked this time.

Mullins said she will be happy to have hot water to wash in her clothes in, but she will keep her electric wringer washer.

“My rain barrels are around the house,” she said. “I caught water to do my laundry in. I done my laundry in cold water. I don’t have no room in the house for an automatic washer.”

Mullins lives in two rooms with a wood stove in each room. Her bed is in the kitchen.

“It’s been heartwarming to me to be able to come out and do something for Dorothy,” Boothe said. “We had so many people in the community that volunteered their help – laying block, plumbing, carpentry work– and donations.”

“It sure has been heartwarming for me to get a shower in, and bathroom in,” Mullins said, adding that she never thought something like this would happen.

“It really surprised me,” she said. “It really surprised me they would come in here and work on it.”

McFall said one USDA official told her he couldn’t believe this many people would come together to help one person.

“We told him Monroe County is a very giving county,” McFall said. “We all work together to help those in need.”

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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