By Pat Maurer
Fall is the time for Home Improvement, and that’s just what is happening right now for one very needy family in the area.
Habitat For Humanity has taken on the task of weather proofing and finishing Cyndi Hodgen’s home just north of Harrison.
Cyndi, who lost her husband Mark last December, has been living with her five children in an unfinished home that she and husband had been in the process of remodeling, when tragedy struck. “We were all devastated,” she said. “We were living in a house without enough insulation, that lost about 80 percent of its heat in the winter because it wasn’t sealed and especially in the new addition, where the wind came right through the walls.”
She continued, “We had holes in the drywall, an unfinished bathroom and no countertops. Habitat stepped in and is helping us by making the house weatherproof by finishing the walls and ceiling inside.”
The last few years have been especially hard for the family. Cyndi and Mark lost their former home and a business to foreclosure. For six years they operated the Cedar River Party Post (formerly Munson’s) on Cranberry Lake and Hoover Roads in Gladwin County and were in the process of building a new home adjacent to the business when the recession hit the store hard and they lost everything.
They began the long process of “coming back.” Mark went to work for Direct TV. Cyndi went back to school at Mid Michigan Community College. In 2008 they purchased a “fixer-upper” home on Long Lake Road north of Harrison, bringing many of the materials originally purchased for the former home they had been building with them to begin work on the new place.
We moved in in February,” she said. “The roof was leaking and the walls were really bad. We hired Amish carpenters to help put in new floors. They put a new metal roof, put in new floors, and installed a fireplace and added support beams because the ceiling was falling down.”
They purchased more materials and were working hard on the home. She pointed out some of the handmade trim that husband Mark had placed around the living room windows.
Then more bad times hit for the family. Mark, with the homes renovation far from complete and with walls only partially finished, developed spinal stenosis and became unable to work. According to information on the Internet, Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the neck and lower back. “We were surviving on Social Security disability and he became really depressed,” Cyndi said. “He couldn’t even work on the house anymore.”
Last December 7, Mark, despondent, took his life. He was just 47 years old. It happened the day before Kane, the couple’s oldest son, turned 16 years old. “It has been so hard on the kids,” she said. Since then Cyndi, who is 46, and her five children – Kane, a junior this year; Noah, 15 and in tenth grade; Heaven, 12, a seventh grader; Eden, 9, in fourth grade; and Noel, 7, who is in second grade – have been struggling to keep things together. In fact, they have been barely “getting by.”
Still, Cyndi stresses the bright side. “When Mark died, the whole community was there to help us,” she said. Pastor Mike and the congregation of the United Methodist Church were there for us. Pastor Mike came the day after Mark died. He helped me with the funeral. He was there to help us cope with the loss. The parishioners donated their time, and even prepared food for the funeral dinner and donated money to help with Christmas.”
She continued, “Harrison Superintendent Tom House and the teachers and staff at Harrison School were a big help for our kids. The whole community just pulled together. They sent us Christmas gifts. Love Inc. of Clare provided brand new beds for the children. A former customer of ours, Kathy Norman, was there for us to help and she still is.”
“That’s what so special about Clare County,” she said. “We moved up here from Wyandotte, a big city, to find out how much this small community cared and pulled together to help us. You just don’t find that kind of help and support in a big city. We can never, ever repay them for all that they have done.”
Frustrated because they couldn’t finish the home on their own, Cyndi contacted Habitat for help. They took on the project and with eight volunteers September 7, and 13 last Saturday, are fast getting the winterizing project complete. They are planning on working for a couple more weekends before the weather turns cold again.
Now things are looking better for the Hodgens. This winter they will have a warmer home. Lori Martin, Executive Director of Clare County Habitat for Humanity has said they have future plans to come back next year and finish inside walls on the second level, wrap the house and install siding.
Scott Losey, President of the Habitat Board has been especially helpful, Cyndi said. “Scott is going to teach my son how to install stone around the fireplace and we will be doing countertops and some work inside ourselves this winter.”
Despite everything that has happened to them, the Hodgens haven’t given up. Cyndi graduated from MMCC last spring with two Associate’s Degrees, one in Graphic Design and another in Visual Arts. Now she is planning to go back to school through online classes to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Real Estate.
“Mark may have been taken from us,” she said, “but God sent us some angels.”
Cyndi Hodgen, daughter Eden and Scott Losey, President of the Habitat Board show some of the cedar being installed on the Hodgen family’s inside walls September 7.