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Dave & Gail Holinka

Resilent residence and its residents: Holinkas able to restore house after freak accident

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Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- A photo hanging in the porch of Dave and Gail Holinka's house depicts its first occupant -- Dr. Gould, a Worthington veterinarian in the early 1900s.

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"He used to do house calls in that horse and buggy," explained Gail. "The stables were located right behind us."

The Holinkas are the fourth owners of the historic abode at 200 Lake St., right on the shore of Lake Okabena. They bought it in 1993 and saw its potential as a home for their family of five, even though it had been divided into two apartments.

"It was well kept, but old," recalled Gail. "But it had the character of an old house that you just fell in love with. We knew it had potential, and we're not afraid of work. We kind of like projects."

"It's all about sweat equity," Dave added. "If you do the right things, it can be worth its weight in gold."

So, for the last 16 years, the Holinkas have been working on their fixer-upper, largely doing the work themselves. They knocked out walls and turned the upstairs kitchen into a bedroom, making it once again a single-family dwelling. They exposed the brick chimney, which had at some point been plastered. They put in energy-efficient windows. They built a larger garage. They added a sunroom and tiled the floor with a pattern of Gail's design. They rebuilt the stairway leading upstairs and constructed a railing out of oak.

"It has always been a work in progress," said Gail.

"It was getting real close (to being done), though," injected Dave.

May 27

On the afternoon of May 27, son Jordan Holinka was taking a shower, two friends waiting for him downstairs. Suddenly, there was the sound of a huge crash, the whole house shook, and the family cat bolted from the front of the house. The friends thought the cat had knocked over something large, but when they went to the porch to check out the damage, were surprised to see a vehicle now sitting under one corner of the porch. The driver had somehow lost control of the vehicle, hurtling across the driveway and lawn and squarely hitting the porch corner.

A neighbor with training as a first responder was the first one on the scene and immediately called 911, summoning police, ambulance and fire personnel.

Gail was at Worthington High School, where she teaches art, when someone came running down the hall to tell her there had been an accident at the house.

"I hurried home, not knowing if the house was on fire, and I was envisioning the kids in there," she recalled.

Dave was at his job as a mechanic at Scholtes Motors when one of his co-workers, Dan Probst, was called out as a member of the fire department.

"Probst called back and said, 'Tell Dave to come to his house with a wrecker-- only Dave,'" he recounted. "I just figured someone had an accident out in front of the house and didn't get the 'only Dave' part until I got there."

The Holinkas' first concern was for the driver of the van, and they were grateful that he survived the impact, although he was taken to the hospital and later transferred to Sioux Falls, S.D., for treatment of his injuries, which included broken bones.

When the excitement died down, they finally had the opportunity to assess the damages sustained by the other victim -- their house.

"The door was tilted, the windows were tilted, it was obvious the whole front of the house was tilted," Gail described. "The windows that we'd just put in were all junk. You thought of all those hours of work, all the years of labor."

Plus, they had a new ornament on their lawn -- a van, wedged solidly under the corner of the porch. Luckily, the vehicle hadn't hit the house foundation, just the footings of the porch -- but the jolt had thrown the entire structure out of kilter.

How to proceed?

The first task at hand was to remove the van from under the house. Initially, fire department members tried to jack it up, but when "a 2- by 10 broke like a toothpick, we decided they'd better leave it," Dave remembered.

A company that specializes in moving houses was called upon.

"When the house mover came, he said he'd told people, 'I have to move a house off a van,"' Gail repeated with a laugh. "He said, 'I'm glad it's yours, not mine.'"

Local engineer Steve Robinson, with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., made several visits to the home to advise the Holinkas. On one such visit, Gail remembers him saying, 'I'm less optimistic today than I was yesterday.'"

But the reality was better than Robinson initially feared.

"My first thought was that we're going to have to tear off the front of the house and rebuild it," Robinson related. "But when we tore into it, looked at the actual structure, everything was sound."

Johnson Builders was selected as the contractor for the job, and amid numerous conference calls between the Holinkas, insurance companies, the house mover and contractor, they finally decided to try pushing the structure back into alignment.

It worked. But there were still a lot of side effects that needed to be repaired. Besides rebuilding the understructure of the porch and the porch itself, there were cracks in almost every plaster wall.

In August, the Holinkas moved into the house next door, and all their furniture was moved out and put into temporary storage or shifted into the upstairs front dormer. From the next-door venue, they were able to keep on eye on the progress and make decisions while still staying out of the carpenters' way.

About six weeks later, they were able to move back in.

Still a work in progress

Earlier this week, Gail put up two Christmas trees -- one in the living room and one on the newly renovated porch. She carefully unwrapped her collection of Christmas houses and perched them on the porch windowsills. And on Friday, the Holinkas hosted an early Christmas celebration for her side of the family.

There are some details to be finalized -- trim on the windows, siding outside, landscaping come spring, and, of course, many financial issues to be ironed out -- but for the most part, the porch reconstruction is done. It is now one large space; previously there was a cold entrance area and a separate room that was heated. Warm cedar planks line the walls, and the original wood floors have been refinished to a lovely patina that reflects the soft glow of what will eventually be vintage fixtures.

Now, six months after a vehicle hurtled into their home, the Holinkas are well aware that they have much to be grateful for this holiday season.

"The house didn't burn. The driver didn't die," Gail reflected. "That's what's kept us so grounded. There were so many worse things that could have happened. We just need to count our blessings."

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