Manayunk businessman gives Montco house to Habitat

Lenny Bazemore remembers heating pots of water on the stove to fill the bathtub. He remembers waiting his turn and bathing in dirty water. He remembers hunger. He remembers poverty.

"We didn't have much, but we had love, we had family," Bazemore said. "We didn't have much, but we had each other."
On Thursday, Bazemore, 46, now a successful businessman, sought to honor the family of his childhood best friend, who lived across the street in Norristown.

He had purchased the family's home after the parents died, planning to flip it for a profit.

But he decided instead to donate it to Habitat for Humanity, to give an opportunity to another family.

"It feels amazing to preserve the name of the Henning family and do something good for Norristown," Bazemore said after a ribbon-cutting Thursday in front of the two-story brick rowhouse. He said he remains friends with his childhood pal Curt Henning, and made the move to honor Curt's parents, Bill and Janice Henning.

"This is it. This is where I'm from," Bazemore said, stretching out his arms and surveying the block.

Even though he now lives on the Main Line, deals in real estate, and owns an art gallery and juice shop in Manayunk, he said, Norristown "will always be my home."

"His roots were here; he still has friends here," said Bazemore's mother, Gwen, 65, who still lives in that home across West Basin Street and trusted that her son would always remember where he came from. "I knew he wouldn't ever forget, because his mother's still here."

Bazemore's gift fits into a broader effort undertaken by Habitat for Humanity.

"We have made a strategic decision to focus on revitalizing Norristown," said Marianne Lynch, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County.

She estimated it will take about six months for volunteers, under the supervision of professionals, to renovate the home for its new occupants. The process will be much faster than usual, she said, because in addition to donating the house, which he bought last year for $45,000, Bazemore is kicking in $50,000 to fix it up.

She said the strong sense of community in the neighborhood was aiding Habitat's efforts in revitalizing Norristown.

Bazemore's mother echoed that sentiment.

"In our area, we always respected each other and looked after each other," Gwen Bazemore said in the living room of the house her son had just donated. "And that's still the way."