by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL
What follows is a story we’d like to do in depth but quite simply are lacking in words (maybe a first). The prologue to this story has already been written by one far more accomplished than ourselves. We refer you to a story written by Tom Rademacher in the Nov. 7, 2010 edition of the Grand Rapids Press—from www.mlive.com—that leads off with the rhetorical question: Where do I start?
It is the story of a Rockford family, the McGees, living in the eye of a firestorm of adversity. It is a story of love and selfless devotion to one another in the face of unimaginable tragedies of health and ensuing circumstances.
Kelly and Sarah McGee and their two sons, Luke, 9, and Evan, 7, reside in a quiet neighborhood on Rockford’s west side. Both boys suffer from a mitochondrial disease of the brain, the youngest most seriously. There is no cure.
Both parents—who, between themselves, work four jobs to stay financially afloat—have a multitude of health issues of their own. Sarah deals with ever-painful fibromyalgia on a daily basis. Kelly is dealing with a second round of skin cancer, suffers recurring kidney stones, and has recently recovered from surgery for a hernia caused by having to constantly lift his son, Evan, from place to place within their home.
In spite of all this and more, they persevere and say they are blessed beyond measure.
Needless to say when every waking hour is spent either on the job or caring for their two boys, the upkeep of their home’s interior has had to take a backseat. Both the kitchen and the home’s main bathroom were almost nonfunctional and in need of serious attention. In addition, the front porch and its stairway also needed life support.
When Luke’s Valley View Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Megan McCall became aware of the plight of the family, she and other teachers spearheaded a series of fundraisers to help the McGees financially. She also reached out to area charities for any assistance they might be able to provide.
“Aside from the fundraisers, nothing much really happened until the Tom Rademacher column appeared in the Press,” said McCall. “Then the ball really started to roll.”
So it came to pass, this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the weekend before Christmas, that a miracle happened for this much deserving family.
Working nonstop for three straight days, dozens of tradesmen, firemen, family, friends and neighbors descended upon the McGee home to provide a Christmas to remember. In order to do so, the McGees were spirited away for the weekend to Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City. They knew their home was going to receive remedial attention, but they had no idea of what they were to find when they returned.
In a whirlwind of nonstop activity, an approximate total of 600 man-hours of labor went into an extreme makeover of the kitchen, main bath, and the front porch and its stairs. Through it all, volunteers were kept well fed through the efforts of Valley View’s hospitality committee headed by Chris Ann Lily.
“Food donation from parents and the surrounding neighborhood was awesome,” said Lily. “Workers never had to leave the job site. We were ready to meet their every need.”
The front porch and its stairs were completely torn out and replaced with an enlarged brand-new deck-like entranceway compliments of a group of Grand Rapids firemen who call themselves “The Axemen.”
“We are a group of professional firefighters who established a nonprofit charitable organization in 2002 to raise monies for charities and to help make a difference,” said Axeman Tony Beurkens. “We just hope we’ve made the McGees’ Christmas a little brighter.”
Too numerous to name individually, finish carpenters, plumbers, electricians, flooring installers, and painters completely gutted and reinstalled new cabinetry, new lighting, new countertops, a new above-the-range microwave enclosure, and new flooring in the kitchen.
The bathroom underwent the same treatment, along with reconfiguring the room by replacing the old single tub/shower enclosure with a separate new tub and a separate new shower stall. Room was even found for the washer and dryer that were moved from the basement level. All in one space, on the bedroom level, it was a bathroom built for efficiency and convenience.
To finish off, both rooms were repainted. Neighbor Brad Carey, a professional window washer, provided the finishing touches while telling us, “ I’m just glad to find a job I have a skill set for!”
Mind you, these volunteers came not only from the neighborhood and Valley View Elementary School, but also from all over West Michigan. Gene Gunderson, whose daughter teaches at Valley View, traveled from Traverse City to install the cabinets in both the kitchen and bathroom. All of the volunteers, in a labor of love, gave freely of their personal time in this last busy weekend before Christmas.
“The support for this project has been amazing,” said Gunderson.
As prearranged last Sunday afternoon, the McGees were met, upon returning home, at the intersection of 12 Mile Road and Wolverine Boulevard by a City of Rockford fire truck. The family was transferred to the truck and, to add icing to the cake, the kids were to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime ride to their front door courtesy of the City of Rockford Fire Department.
Arriving at their home in the Highlands neighborhood of Rockford, the family was met by a crowd of well-wishers (photo-ops galore—newspapers and WZZM 13 alike).
After hugs and kisses all around, the family entered the house alone for the “big reveal.” Shouts of joy, including “awesome” and “incredible,” were heard by those outside. Inside Sarah kept repeating, “I’m speechless, I’m speechless,” over and over again. Endearing, coming from someone who is known as a fount of enthusiasm and is never without something to say!
The week before Christmas is a week of shared joy and celebration. What we witnessed last Sunday afternoon was people putting that joy around the shoulders of others. Merry Christmas, McGee family!
A fund established to further assist the McGees has been set up at Independent Bank, 78 S. Main St., Rockford, MI 49341. Checks should be made out to “The McGee Family.”