Truitt Jefferson is just happy to be alive.
What the 75-year-old Milton resident thought was fairly routine stop into Beebe Medical Center in Lewes two years ago turned into a night he will never forget. Jefferson had a coughing spell and went to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a condition in which proteins are deposited in organs and tissues causing harm. The next thing he knew he was in an ambulance on his way up to Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.
“They had me dead,” a choked up Jefferson said.
And while the disease still doesn't have a cure, Jefferson is doing well; he takes no medications.
“I've been very lucky,” he said. “I just have to be thankful.”
He keeps a slip of paper with the name of the disease in his wallet because he can never remember it or pronounce it, he said. When up in Massachusetts seeking a second opinion, Jefferson said, he saw first hand how debilitating the disease can be.
“Some of the people you see up there who've had it are in bad shape,” he said. “They can't get around.”
But since his diagnosis, Jefferson hasn't slowed down. Jefferson retired in 2002. He worked as a CPA and founded his own practice in Georgetown, now called Jefferson, Urian, Doane & Sterner P.A. But his hobby isn't working in the books, it's buying and rehabilitating homes throughout Milton. He owns several properties around town and is never afraid to take on another one. His most recent project is an old Victorian home on the corner of Federal and Mill streets. As with many older homes, the project had its challenges. He said this particular project was eerie from the beginning.
“There were 200 bats in the attic when I bought it,” he said. “There was a single lady who lived there and she couldn't see so well, and she said they would come down from the attic and sit on the sofa.”
He said the 200 bats squatting in the attic was only a portion of what was there when the previous homeowner still lived there.
“She paid a bunch of money to get rid of them,” he said. “They got rid of some of them, but I still had to call the bat man back. He wasn't afraid of them. He would come in and put his goggles and gloves on, and he would just go up there, grab them and put them in a coffee can.”
Because bats are protected, the bat man released the mammals near Greenwood. After that episode, Jefferson had the home's roof replaced, which has kept the home bat-free. But with hundreds of bats living in a home for such a long time, Jefferson said, he had other concerns as well. Histoplasmosis and Cryptococcus are common funguses in areas where bats live, often causing flu-like symptoms that can cause serious illness.
“If it gets in your lungs, it's worse than pneumonia,” he said.
Jefferson had the home cleared of any bat droppings, and the diseases are no longer a concern. He said the home is nearly complete on the inside and should be on the market soon.
“Some people buy homes because they're fixer uppers, and I've had houses that qualified for that, but I don't want to sell fixer-uppers, so I fix them up,” he said.
Jefferson has moved homes, adjusted lot sizes and even split properties. Among Jefferson's less adventurous properties in town is his childhood home on Union Street. He said he lived in the home until he joined the military, but later bought it from his mother and, while he lives on Broadkill Road, still owns it today.
Jefferson attended all 12 grades at what is now Milton Elementary School on Federal Street. After graduating in 1955, he joined the U.S. Air Force. He went to boot camp in New York before being shipped down to McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando, Fla. Although the Korean War ended in 1954, Jefferson volunteered to serve a year in the southeast Asian country.
“The scuttlebutt was I was going to get transferred so I just volunteered for Korea for a year,” he said. “The war was over. When I came back, I went to Cape Cod in Massachusetts and stayed there until I got out.”
Jefferson was granted a 90-day early release from the Air Force in order to attend Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington. He remained in Wilmington until 1970 before returning home. He married his wife, Ginny, in 1972 and built his current home on Broadkill Road (Route 16) shortly thereafter. Jefferson said the town hasn't changed much during his lifetime, except for one major newcomer.
“All the houses and downtown looks kinda similar, but Dogfish Head is making the town,” he said. “If it wasn't for Dogfish Head the town would be in trouble, and I'm not sure how many people realize that.”
Jefferson said he really admires founder Sam Calagione's innovativeness and ability to think on his feet. While he doesn't drink too much, Jefferson said, he's occasionally dropped into the brewery to pick up a few beers; his favorite is 60 Minute IPA.
“I drink of his beers,” he said. “Some of it I like; some of it is just too strong.”