Nestor Kozey may be 95, but he’s far from fragile.
In a pair of bulky safety boots, Kozey moves with as much grace as a man half his age, trudging through mud, up and down diggers and up and down basement steps to examine personally the cradles, wedges and steel beams that he and his team will use to move a house – roof, walls and all.
“I’ve known good friends in my life who retired at 65,” Kozey said during an interview in the village of Currie, Ont. “Then it seems to me that they start walking slowly right after that because they might have a heart attack.
“Well, you could have a heart attack no matter what you do – that’s how it is,” said the Princeton, Ont., village resident.
Kozey began his 7-decade career in 1950
With such a mindset, it’s no wonder Kozey hasn’t stopped moving. He started in the structural removals business in 1950 and hasn’t stopped since – not that he’s ever missed work.
“I’ve never had a newspaper ad in my life and I’ve always had more than I can handle,” he said. “It’s just word of mouth from person to person.”
Susan Start, owner of the Ontario farm where Kozey is working on his latest structural move, first heard about him through word of mouth.
Eleven years ago, Kozey was talked about after he moved a historic pre-Confederation Methodist church through the neighboring community of Norwich.
“He was 83 when he was doing this and I thought it was amazing,” she said. “He’s just remarkable.
“He doesn’t look 95 at all. I guess he was over 80, but not 95. It’s just an honor to meet him and see him work up close.”
That sense of respect, appreciation, and admiration might be part of why Kozey is there, helping people land their dream home, as long as they’re willing to move it to the next town.
“You can come back five years later, you meet them on the street or whatever and they still like you. It really makes you feel good.”
“Good houses” are no match for bulldozers and bureaucrats
In a province struggling with a housing crisis where the average price of a home surpassed $1 million in February and there are calls for sweeping reform to curb runaway price growth, Kozey doesn’t understand why it isn’t easier to do his job.
He saves pristine homes that stand in the way of rapid suburban expansion so they can be moved to a place where someone else can use them.
WATCH | Nestor Kozey, 95, explains why more people aren’t moving:
Kozey said the cost of a structural move ranges from $20,000 to $80,000 and could save a home that would otherwise be demolished, were it not for all the paperwork.
“The first word is ‘no’ and then you have to work your way through it,” he said. “They’ll say ‘give me two weeks’ or ‘give me three weeks’ and they’ll say ‘we need a study of this’ or ‘a study of that’ and it goes on and on and on.”
Even though the 95-year-old has 72 years of experience in the field, he has to wait, sometimes more than a month, for an engineer’s report to confirm what he already knows.
“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s just a pattern of bureaucracy you have to go through.”
Retreat attempts never took
So what made him stick with it for so long? Most people retire at 65. Kozey is now 30 and has at least two more contracts before he finally retires.
“I tried many times to retire,” he said. “I can’t sit around doing nothing. I have to do something.”
Jean, his 65-year-old wife, died in 2013. Since then, Kozey has kept his personal life busy, playing cards with neighbors and regularly volunteering at his hometown history museum in Princeton.
He also left his mark on the community by advocating for a local social hall and building a community baseball diamond.
Kozey said he will eventually give up the moving business, but only after completing the contacts he has already signed.
“I have already signed a contract for two others. I have to finish them. I intend to finish them, unless I die.”
As for his next project, Kozey said he wanted to build a custom motorhome. Once completed, he will use it to visit his extended family, who live across the country from British Columbia to Halifax.
He realizes that he probably doesn’t have much time left, but he doesn’t mind.
“I’m 95, you know,” he said. “I don’t worry about it. I don’t worry about ‘it’s a waste of time’, I don’t care. I’m going to love doing it.”