Bob and Maggie Davis have one of those houses in the West Central neighborhood that preservationists might see as a diamond in the rough.
A late-Victorian two-story built from brick, the house has a big bay window and wrap-around porch, but it still could use a little work.
Few onlookers, however, would ever guess just how rough the house – or the lives of its owners – have become in recent years.
A few years back, Bob, 57, was in a tractor-trailer crash on U.S. 30 in Ohio after a tumor pressing against his lung caused him to pass out. He rolled his truck rig, and injuries from the accident rendered him unable to work.
Maggie, 56, was diagnosed with terminal liver disease.
The house had a fire in the upstairs apartment, with damage the couple couldn’t afford to repair. When the furnace went out, they had to get through the winters with kerosene heaters, which blackened the walls with soot and left them both with chronic lung disease.
But that was before the Davises became part of an unusual program through Emmanuel Lutheran Church – an effort to improve the lives of older residents in its immediate neighborhood by helping them make major home repairs.
This is really an expression of our mission to the neighborhood where God has placed us, says Emmanuel’s pastor, the Rev. Thomas Eggold. To show this kind of hands-on care to neighbors is a really exciting thing for us to be involved in.
Since 2009, Eggold says, the congregation has been instrumental in repairing four homes: the Davises’ at 1234 Stophlet St., which received two high-efficiency furnaces and replacement windows among other repairs; plus 1308 Union St. and 1222 and 1226 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Under the direction of Scott Greider and Mike Anderson, both Emmanuel members and West Central residents, the effort was able to obtain a nearly $50,000 grant from Lutheran Housing Support for the project. Greider is an architect, and Anderson is a residential real estate investor and a former neighborhood association president.
LHS is a nationwide non-profit agency started by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod that finances revitalization of neighborhoods near the denomination’s churches. The money came from a fund designated to help older residents, Anderson says.
While Emmanuel volunteers had helped neighbors with small jobs such as yard work and painting, There never was a way for us to do heavy-lifting projects – roofing, heating and cooling, siding, replacing windows, things that might require a contractor, he says. This (funding) was able to provide that.
Although West Central is a designated historic neighborhood, the money did not go for restoration or cosmetic improvements, Anderson says.
The idea was to make measurable improvements in the lives of people who were desperately in need, he says. Residents were selected based on his, Greider’s and other church members’ knowledge of the neighborhood.
James Kolkman, a World War II paratrooper, and his wife, Mae, benefited from one project after they applied for a city grant and were told that program had run out of money.
The couple’s home at 1308 Union St. had drafty asphalt siding and windows replaced and insulation added. The improvements made the house less costly to heat and therefore more affordable for the fixed-income couple, Anderson says.
An 1890s home at 1222 Jefferson Blvd. owned by Jackie Beals had its leaking roof repaired and a new ceiling installed. A carriage-house style garage also got a new roof and was repainted, and repairs on the home’s heating and cooling system were continuing last week.
The house next door, 1226 Jefferson Blvd., owned by Judy Cole, had its non-working water heater replaced and some code violations remedied. It’s awaiting roof repair.
Both women are seniors with health problems, Anderson says.
None of the recipients were church members nor does the grant require them to be, Eggold says. Preference is given by Lutheran Housing Support to sustainable improvements that enable residents to stay in their homes, he says.
The grants, he says, are available to any Missouri Synod congregation willing to take on the work.
Anderson says the church plans to keep on improving. He’s about to compile a new round of West Central project suggestions in order to apply for a second grant.
Davis says the project’s help has made a big difference in his living conditions. After three years, he was able to begin collecting disability payments for his injury and to avoid foreclosure by refinancing.
He’s now doing remodeling little by little. He hopes to turn the second floor of the house back into a livable apartment, an improvement that could boost his income.
Getting rid of the kerosene heaters alone saves him $20 a day in fuel in the wintertime, and it’s easier healthwise, he says.
My wife and I aren’t coughing up black stuff anymore every morning, he says from front sidewalk before going inside. Then he re-emerges.
You know, he says, if Mike and the church hadn’t pushed this along, we’d be in bad shape. That’s what I want to say.