To all appearances, the gathering Sunday afternoon in Massey Park was a family picnic. In a way, it was.

The Habitat for Humanity board, volunteers and homeowners are much like a family, said Leslie Wyatt, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Ellis County, as she watched John Kreutzer slice watermelon.

Those involved with the organization joined at the park for a picnic followed by a public watermelon feed to celebrate two of their homeowners.

Kreutzer and his wife, Deb, recently became the first of the local chapter’s homeowners to pay off their mortgage.

“We actually got it paid off a couple months ahead of schedule,” John said.

The Kreutzers live in Russell, where the Ellis County chapter inherited the home when a Russell chapter folded. The Kreutzers moved into the second home built in 2001. They put their “sweat equity” — an amount of volunteer time helping with the house Habitat requires of its homeowners — and also assisted with the other two houses in Russell County.

The Ellis County chapter also introduced their newest homeowners, Marcus and Megan Bucher, and their three children Peyton, 7, Parker, 4, and Mya, 20 months.

At the end of the month, they will move into a home Habitat rehabilitated in Victoria.

“We’re so excited for the Bucher family to be in the house, because we know Victoria is where they wanted to be at, and we’re happy to make that connection for them,” Wyatt said.

Megan’s parents live in Victoria, not too far from her family’s new home.

The Buchers have lived in Hays for 15 years, where Marcus works as an installer for Eagle Communications, and are eager to move into the house.

“We like it a lot. My wife loves it. She’s got so many ideas,” he said.

Bucher said Habitat and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were especially helpful in getting qualified for the loan.

With the Victoria house sold and a $30,000 grant this summer from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Habitat will now turn its focus to a house in Ellis, where they have slowly been rehabilitating a house since last year.

Habitat started construction on the house in 2006 and a family moved in two years later. But in 2017, they vacated the house and it reverted to Habitat’s possession.

The property is in need of dirt work to prevent water runoff from getting in the basement and will be getting all new flooring, Wyatt said. She will start lining up contractors for that and other work soon, but doesn’t have a timeline for its completion.