An extreme makeover
WORTHINGTON -- Grace DeVries knows she will shed a few tears Sunday night when she watches "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." She already shed a few just watching the preview of this show on last week's edition.
While "Extreme Makeover" is often emotional, Sunday's episode strikes close to home -- Grace's childhood home. The recipients of a new house are her brother, Dirk DeVries, his wife Susan and their three children, April, 17, Derik, 15, and Hanna, 12. Dirk lost his right arm in a farming accident when he was younger. Susan, who has a heart condition, is a music and reading teacher at a Christian school and makes instruments for students who can't afford them.
"They work so hard, spend more time volunteering and donating than they do taking care of their own stuff," said Grace about why her brother's family was picked for the show. This year, "Extreme Makeover" has an emphasis on helping heroes. "They try to make do with what they have. They're very family-oriented, do more with the family than with the house."
According to Grace, Dirk and his family were nominated for the television show by some people from their church. In June, the family was asked to do some interviews for consideration by the producers. They found out on Sept. 30 that they had been chosen, and host Ty Pennington and his crew of designers showed up at their door.
The new abode is resurrected from the rubble of the 90-year-old house where Grace grew up in rural Hayward, just east of Albert Lea.
Grace, who lives in Storden and works at the Veterinary Medical Center in Worthington, was on hand for the entire construction process. The old house was demolished on Oct. 2, and 100 hours later, a new one was standing in its place.
"I was so glad that I had vacation time and was able to use it," Grace reflected. "Words cannot even describe what went on that week, to see how a house is torn down and built back up in four days. It was just amazing to see all the people. It was bigger than a county fair. There were people out there from Day One to the reveal, 700 to 800 people."
While Dirk and his family were sent off on a vacation to Niagara Falls, Grace and her other family members stayed on site and kept a close eye on the developments. They were not counted among the volunteers, but instead had VIP status.
"Since we grew up there, we had free reign with the facilities," Grace described. "We were able to walk around."
There were no close encounters with host Ty Pennington, but Grace interacted freely with the designers, including John Littlefield, Paul DiMeo and Eduardo Xol.
"Those three guys were very personable," she recalled, "willing to take pictures, sign autographs."
Grace was reluctant to leave the building site even to sleep, because she never knew what might happen in her absence.
"It's amazing what can happen in 12 hours," she said. "You don't want to leave for even one minute for what you might miss. It was so fun to see all the neighbors that came out, people you rode the school bus with. We spent a lot of time reminiscing with neighbors."
Some of the "Extreme Makeover" homes are indeed extreme when they are finished, but Grace describes her brother's new home as "very practical."
"It's all one level, kind of an H-style house, with bedrooms on one side and a great room with the kitchen and living area," she said. "It's beautiful but practical."
There is at least one room that has a few quirky elements, though. Nephew Derik's room has a duct tape theme, with curtains and bedspread made out of the common household product.
The DeVries family has planned a formal, black-tie reveal party for Sunday night's episode at a casino in Mason City. Since Grace has to work the next day, she has elected not to make the several-hour trip and will instead watch with a few friends at home.
"I think it's going to be weird on Sunday, knowing that the (old) house isn't there any more," she said. "This is just unbelievable, and it really happened to my family."
But the lasting impression that will stay with Grace isn't of the beautiful new house her relatives will now live in, but of the people who came together to make it happen -- the volunteers.
"That people are willing to serve in that kind of capacity and not get anything out of it, just for the reward of serving and helping out -- that's very heartwarming," she said. "The real heroes are the people who did all the work."