Published: Apr 13, 2011 5:08 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 13, 2011 2:08 PM EDT

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla.- Victor Camp has refused to take his retirement in Southwest Florida lying down. The 70-year-old Bonita Springs resident is nearing the completion of a three-year project and a lifelong dream.

He's building his own house.

Sure, he's had help here and there with duties that are difficult or impossible for just one person - laying the foundation and putting up the roof trusses and tie beams, for example - but almost everything else is of his own doing, a true labor of love.

That includes the hauling, lifting, nailing, finishing as well as the plumbing and electrical work.

"I decided to build my own home because I could," said Camp, who graduated from a trade school in Chicago and spent some of his 20s building high rises, including the John Hancock Center, before embarking on a career in zoology in St. Paul, Minn.

"I liked building things, but not as a profession," he said.

He bought a lot in Bonita Shores in 2004. He then began to design and construct a three-bedroom/three-bathroom home with Spanish-style architecture, 13 arches over doorways, high ceilings, custom-made cabinetry, extra-wide hallways and gas-powered appliances including a stove and hot water heater.

"We just loved this area and neighborhood," he said. "My wife Carolyn and I used to vacation with the kids on Fort Myers Beach and while we really liked it there, I didn't want to live in a stilt house, and it's just too busy there during season."

The quiet neighborhood west of U.S. 41 and in the section of Bonita in Collier County seemed like the perfect place.

So after budgeting $275,000 for the 2,400-square-foot construction, securing all the required permits, paying $34,000 in impact fees and hiring and later firing an architect who refused to meet Camp's design demands, Camp broke ground in early 2008.

Getting to the point of breaking ground, however, proved to be tedious.

"There was a lot of paperwork for the permitting," Camp said. "I did it all myself and it took almost a month. If I were to do it all over again, it would take me about half that time. If you know exactly what you need and where to go and what line to get into, it's a lot easier."

The construction permit covers most of it - plumbing, electrical, concrete blocks, roof and trusses, he said.

"I carry that as the builder," he said. "I found out later I needed separate permits for the propane and gas lines and the outdoor sprinkler system."

When neighbors found out about Camp's building plan, they thought he was crazy, he said.

Neighbor and retired building contractor Ty Thelin, 81, said Camp's accomplishment is remarkable.

"It takes a long time for someone to do that," he said. "I wouldn't want to do it. I give him an awful lot of credit."

Everything in the home is designed for Camp and his wife. Terra cotta surrounds outdoor windows and French doors lead directly into one of the guest bedrooms.

"If we have guests, they can go right into their room without having to come in to the main house," he said.

The kitchen, which was designed by Camp's daughter, Lindsey Schultz - an interior architectural designer - is the centerpiece of the home.

Granite countertops and top-of-the-line appliances complement the Amish cabinetry. Each shelf was designed specifically for different uses, Camp said.

"I love it. My daughter won the 2007 National Kitchen & Bath Association's Kitchen of the Year," he said.

Friend Chris Shippen said Camp and her late husband often talked about building their own boat back in high school.

"I think in the back of his mind, he always wanted to build something," she said. "I just don't think that he ever thought it (would) take this long to do it."

Camp has worked eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, since February 2008.

"I lost a lot of weight working through the summers," he said. But you wouldn't know it if you had just met him. He is built solid, like a linebacker, and his strong, meaty hands suggest that, even though he may have spent most of his life working with animals, a hammer and nails were never far away.

He was busy this past week installing his cabinets. It's usually one step at a time - making sure there's a line drawn on the wall and then using a laser to ensure each cabinet is installed evenly.

"I celebrated a little bit yesterday because I laid all the sod just before it started raining," he said last week. "But I never say, 'I've got to get this done today.' It's not a matter of getting it done. It's a matter of getting it right. I think that's why this whole thing has taken so long."

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