Tearing down the house

Published 9:26 am Friday, October 3, 2008

In just a matter of a few minutes Thursday the old farmhouse of Dirk and Susan DeVries was demolished to make way for a new house devoid of problems.

With about 300 area volunteers in blue “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” T-shirts looking on and cheering — with celebrity Ty Pennington and the show’s designers also present — three Larson Contracting excavators tore apart the house.

The demolition marked the start of the construction on the DeVries land, where in less than five days a new, fully-furnished house will stand.

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Pennington said the DeVries family — which is made up of father Dirk, mother Susan, and children April, Derik and Hanna — is one that has a lot of love.

He said everybody he’s talked to in the area has told him that he and the “Extreme Makeover” show are in Hayward for the right reasons.

Dirk, 50, works as a mechanic at Royal Sports in Clarks Grove. He used to be a farmer, but a farming accident from his younger years left him with only arm.

Susan, 42, is a music and reading teacher at Hollandale Christian School, who is also known for her artistic talents. She has a heart condition that causes her heart to beat about 120 times per minute, Pennington said, adding that coming home to that house every day was actually making her sick.

April is 17, Derik is 15 and Hanna is 12.

Earlier this week, Hanna described the house as “coming apart at the seams.”

Though he was excited about the makeover, Derik said Tuesday he was a little shaky about the demolition because the family has had so many good memories in the old house.

The family was on their week-long vacation in Niagara Falls, N.Y. when the demolition took place.

It came after what was already a long day of filming.

At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, volunteers who were to participate in the show’s famous “Braveheart” scene began to arrive at the site to get their blue “Extreme Makeover” T-shirts and white hard hats. Despite the chilly temperatures in the upper 30s the people were eager to be there.

Instead of walking up to the house in one large group like it’s done on most other episodes of the show, in this “Braveheart” scene the people rode in cheering and waving on 10 Albert Lea Area Schools buses. With Susan and Dirk’s close connection to Hollandale Christian School and the fact that they actually drive children on a school bus every weekday, it was a fitting entry.

Crews filmed about a half dozen takes of scenes that included the buses pulling up to the house and the volunteers running off of them cheering and then circling around Pennington and Al Larson, the owner of Larson Contracting, the company that is building the house.

In the final take, the buses came down 200th Street in rural Hayward and then turned down the DeVries driveway. The volunteers, clad in their blue T-shirts, excitedly ran off the buses and cheered as they formed a donut-shaped circle around Pennington and Larson.

Camera crews got multiple shots of the group cheering from several different viewpoints, and then Pennington and Larson gave speeches.

“You guys ready to do some demo?” Pennington yelled out to the group.

The crowd erupted into cheers.

After a few takes of this scene, the volunteers lined up against the buses, which were parked around the house, and readied for demolition.

Then, one by one the designers and Pennington attempted to swing sledgehammers and throw rocks at different spots at the house for the cameras.

The volunteers were silent and stood watching.

The house where Dirk and Susan DeVries have raised their three children in rural Hayward is the same house that Dirk grew up in with his five siblings — four brothers and one sister — and parents.

Out at the demolition site Thursday, one of Dirk’s brothers, Bill, arrived at the old house just as it had been knocked down and crews were beginning to clean it up.

Bill said as he was watching the crews, he could remember many winters when he grew up playing in the basement of the house with his siblings because it was too cold to be outside.

“You live there for 20-some years, from being a small youngster to when you grow up and move out … that’s a lot of family gatherings and holidays,” he said.

He noted he is not sad the house was torn down because his brother and family are going to benefit greatly from it.

“The building’s gone, but the memories are still there,” Bill said. He estimated that the house was built sometime in the early 1910s, but wasn’t sure. He thought there was an addition put on in the 1950s.

While watching the action Thursday, he met up with his youngest brother out at the site as well. Dirk’s mother was also there for a while too, Bill said.

“I’m really happy for them,” he said of his brother and family. “They deserve this.”

Pennington was filmed running into and out of the house, and then after about an hour of preliminary demolition work, three huge excavators fired up their engines and waited for the cue to begin tearing the house down.

After getting the cue around noon, they tore through the walls and the roof; about 30 seconds later, at least a third of the house was knocked down. Dust billowed out as pieces of the house crumbled, and Hayward firefighters sprayed water onto the house to alleviate the dust. At one point, the Reese’s collage on the wall in April’s room was visible from the outside, but in just a second, that too was down.

Once the entire house was down, the excavators kept breaking up the pieces of it and eventually cleared them off the land.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience — it really was,” said one volunteer Sari Edwards, of Albert Lea.

“It was a lot of excitement,” added another volunteer, April Petersen, who lives about a mile away from the DeVries home. “We did a lot more standing than we did filming, but that’s OK, it was worth it.”

The two women said they never anticipated that shooting a few scenes for the show would take as long as it did, but it was an experience of much energy and excitement.

“If somebody didn’t volunteer to come out here because they didn’t think it was a good cause, they’re crazy,” said Edwards, who is a regular viewer of the “Extreme Makeover” show. “Who would have thought that something like this would happen in a small town like this?”

Petersen described the DeVries family as “really wonderful people,” who give a lot of their time to help others.

Albert Lean Jodi Walters, who was also volunteering, described the experience as being awesome.

She said though she does not personally know the family, she decided to come out and volunteer to be a part of the effort.

Her highlight was seeing the design team — people who are usually on TV — right in Freeborn County.

“It will be fun to see the finished product,” she said.