DETROIT – Baking cookies never seemed as sweet for 101-year-old Texana Hollis as it did on Wednesday, when she tearfully was allowed back into the home her husband bought after World War II following her eviction seven months ago.
Foreclosure initially forced Hollis from the home where she'd spent six decades of her life, then federal officials wouldn't let her move back in because of its dilapidated condition. That's when Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom and his charity stepped in, and convinced volunteers and businesses to do the same.
"God bless everyone who had a hand in this," Hollis said, tears swelling in her eyes, after she reentered the home.
One of her first tasks: Trying out the new stove to bake sugar and chocolate chip cookies, which she lifted off a tinfoil-covered baking sheet using a new spatula and carefully placed into a tin.
Albom and his charities helped renovate Hollis' house after buying it from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Albom spent $30,000 — much of it out of his own pocket — on the project, and more than 100 volunteers spent months putting in new flooring, drywall, appliances and even a portion of the roof.
"I promised Texana that all she has to do is just stay alive and give us another 101 years," he said after pushing Hollis up a newly constructed wheelchair ramp and into the gleaming home. "She will never lose this house again."
When asked about the changes inside the house, where rooms were painted in soft shades of blue, green and yellow and decorated with welcoming bouquets of flowers, he jokingly answered: "It would probably be easier to tell you what's old."
Hollis was evicted Sept. 12 and her belongings placed outside after her son failed to pay property taxes linked to a reverse mortgage. HUD foreclosed on the home. Two days later, the federal agency said she could return — but then blocked her from moving in after an assessment determined the house was unsanitary and unsafe.
Hollis' son took out the reverse mortgage for the $32,000 assessed value of the property, an option that HUD permits for the elderly. HUD took control of the mortgage after the amount paid to the family exceeded the value of the house in 2006.
Nedal Tamer, whose construction business did much of the work, said the structure was in "terrible" condition but underwent a successful remodeling thanks to many businesses and individuals who stepped up. Guardian Alarm, for example, installed security and medical monitoring systems for free that typically cost around $750.
The result was emotional for everyone who watched as the happy centenarian returned to her home.
"God is so good," said Hollis, who is now looking forward to her next big day: Her 102nd birthday next month.