“I wish I had the words to say how much I appreciate what you’ve done,” he said. After a short pause, he offered a simple “thank you.”
He said earlier he has been kept awake at night trying to find the right words to say. Though the words were few, he said they were from his heart.
The new house was built by volunteers to replace the Wagners’ 43-year-old mobile home that was destroyed by a tornado on April 27, 2011.
Ironically, the dedication was originally scheduled on the afternoon of March 2, when another tornado struck the county.
The event was hosted by the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization, the funding agent for the build that was paid for through donations to the Disaster Relief Fund.
Matt Ryerson, executive director of United Way of Bradley County, thanked all collaborative partners including Cleveland State Community College, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Salvation Army, Caldwell Paving and Whirlpool.
The recovery organization grew from the Mayors Coalition established by Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland.
Davis, who attended the ceremony, said it’s “great” to see the Wagners in their new home after a long and trying 10 1/2 months.
“It’s another example of the help the LTRO is providing in the community and there’s a lot more work that has to be done,” Davis said. “I’m glad Tom and I saw the need for the coalition, but we knew it would be something that would change over time as needs arose. When this came about in April, we realized early on that maybe the next step would be to go in this direction. I’m just glad we had the coalition in place.”
Lanny Tayloe, project manager for the Bradley Baptist Association, oversaw every detail of construction performed by many volunteers. He was also responsible for building the house within budget.
Randy Bonner, Ministry Evangelism director of the Bradley Baptist Association, said Tayloe had about 88 cents left in the budget when the home was finished.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I know how we can spend those 88 cents,” Bonner said.
Tayloe presented the Wagners with a certificate of occupancy signed by the county building inspector, keys, and a New Testament signed by a group of men from Murfreesboro.
“Cleveland is ‘The City With Spirit,’” Tayloe said. “This is the house with spirit. The spirit of all the volunteers who worked on this house are in this house.”
Charles Bagley was the LTRO case manager who acted as the coordinator between the Wagners and Bradley Baptist Association. He assisted with obtaining building permits and advised the elderly couple on all decisions to keep them involved in the process.
“I ensured they had as much input as possible,” Bagley said.
Both of the Wagners walk with canes, but Bagley made sure the house met their future needs by equipping it with a handicapped-accessible shower, 36-inch doors, wide hallways and simulated wood-grain vinyl flooring that can hold up under wheelchairs. The special shower increased the size of the structure which resulted in having to get a new building permit.
“The Bradley Baptist Association has been super to work with,” Bagley said. “There was a ton of volunteers and Lanny told the Wagners’ story to each one to personalize the home. He wanted them to know who they were building it for.”
The Wagners’ granddaughter, Tammy Riden, told the crowd of the bureaucracy she faced trying to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA eventually paid $16,000 to repair the mobile home even though it was not repairable. The funds did go toward building the new structure.
Riden thanked County Building Inspector Tina Bishop for issuing a letter of condemnation stating the mobile home was not repairable, and for introducing her to a reporter who told her grandparents’ story. She credited the reporter for introducing her to LTRO Case Manager Lisa Mantooth and LTRO Executive Director Jim Polier, who nominated the Wagners for a new house.
Finally, she acknowledged the sales associates in the Garden Center at Lowe’s who gave her a dogwood tree to plant in the yard.
“This whole place was covered with trees. You couldn’t see the sky there were so many trees,” Riden said. “Every step of the way, God put an angel in my path to help me take the next step. All of you are angels.”