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Frank Gray

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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
John and Becky Leone show a banner listing the vendors that helped remodel their home after it was flooded with sewage.

Kindness gets couple back home

Ten months ago, John and Becky Leone got what one could call the rawest of raw deals.

The Leones lived in a mobile home in Dupont Estates off Dupont Road, and the sewer line got stopped up outside a vacant house about two doors from their home.

The park’s sewer system is owned by the mobile home park, but the park has a contract with the city to perform repairs when a problem arises.

So, in keeping with its part of the bargain, the city sent a crew to deal with the problem. Instead of removing the blockage, though, the workers pumped built-up sewage in the line downstream. That sent raw sewage gushing out of the toilets, bathtubs and sinks in the Leones’ home.

Raw sewage filled the bathrooms, flowed into the halls, and flooded the dining room and a back bedroom. The carpeting and sub-flooring was soaked with sewage. The drywall and the insulation in the walls and beneath the floors were similarly soaked with sewage. The ductwork beneath the floors was filled with sewage.

The house was unlivable.

It was just plain dumb luck that Becky Leone, who alters and makes wedding gowns on the side, had moved a stack of gowns she was working on into a living room, which was spared damage.

Leone said city workers quickly told her they’d made a mistake, and that everything would be taken care of.

We are dealing with the city, here, though, and the city is government. So when the Leones, who didn’t have insurance, filed a claim with city government, they were promptly told it wasn’t the city’s problem.

“Sorry. So sad,” was the way Becky Leone summed up the city’s response.

What do you do, though, when a city crew has essentially wrecked your home?

In the Leones’ case, they moved in with their son-in-law, where both Becky and John continued to do their jobs. Becky continued to alter wedding gowns on the side.

“I had people counting on me,” she said.

Meanwhile, John Leone spent every night after work and every weekend going to the house, cleaning up what he could, replacing what he could.

John Leone said he spent virtually every penny of savings he had replacing floors, toilets, sinks, tubs, insulation, drywall.

Progress was slow. John Leone worked alone, and sometimes it was just one board or one box of nails, because that was all he had.

But bad news kept piling up. Some men the Leones hired to help with removing ruined materials decided to burglarize the place one night and stole whatever of value was left behind.

But the Leones plugged along.

Around about December, some people took notice. The Leones had hired Paul Davis Restoration to make repairs immediately after the disaster, but they pulled the company off the job when it wasn’t clear who would pay the bill or how.

In December, though, someone affiliated with the company visited the Leones’ home and saw how much work John Leone had done all by himself.

“He wasn’t sitting around waiting for someone else to do the work for him,” Becky Leone said.

To coin a phrase, it wasn’t “their responsibility,” but they decided what really makes a community – not some cold-hearted government department but the people – needed to step forward.

Paul Davis volunteered workers. Members of churches the Leones were affiliated with stepped forward. Big-box hardware stores kicked in supplies. A plumber stepped forward. A carpet store kicked in carpeting. Someone came forward to tear out the sewage-plugged ductwork and replace it. Insulation was replaced beneath the floors. New studs went up where needed. Drywall was hung. Painting was done. A plumber even installed an anti-backup valve, a simple $25 gadget to prevent any future backups.

“We’ve had unbelievable kindness shown to us,” Becky Leone said.

On Saturday, 10 months after the original debacle, the Leones returned home.

Well, the Leones didn’t exactly do it themselves. Volunteers showed up to move them back into their home. They carried the furniture and boxes. They polished the furniture. They washed the windows. The Leones weren’t allowed to lift a finger.

And Saturday night, the Leones slept in their own bed for the first time in 10 months.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter (@FrankGrayJG).