Blount community helps family pay mortgage through 2013
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s the difference between night and day, fear and elation, having a home to go home to or losing it all.
For Stuart Duke and his wife, Beatrice, the roller-coaster ride they were on as they faced eviction from their Maryville home is now over and they’ve landed safely.
Daily Times readers became familiar with the family when their story appeared in the July 17 edition. They were $3,600 behind on their mortgage and days away from their house being auctioned off on the steps of the Blount County Courthouse.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Two bank accounts were set up — one at Y-12 Federal Credit Union and the other at SunTrust Bank — and when the final tabulations came in, there was more than enough to pay the amount owed plus fees. The funds donated as of the end of July totaled $13,742.88. That means after saving the Dukes’ home from foreclosure, there was enough money left to pay the $435.68 monthly mortgage into December 2013.
Stuart, 55, who is an Army veteran, purchased the home in 1995, before he and Beatrice were married. He had gotten behind on his payments in the past, but had always managed to catch up — until this latest hardship.
This week, the thankful couple recalled the frustration and hopelessness they felt weeks ago as they started planning to pack up everything they owed for somewhere else. Now that their home has been saved, joy and gratefulness are written across their faces.
It came down to the wire, however. The house on Howard Street was to be auctioned off on July 24. Stuart and Beatrice said the last details were worked out to prevent that from happening at about 2 p.m. the day before.
It’s been humbling, Beatrice said. “Most of the people who stepped in to help didn’t even know us. We looked at what donations were coming in to the SunTrust account. Some of the amounts were for $5, but that meant as much to us as the ones for $1,000. It really did.”
In addition to the monetary donations, people came with food and paper products. Others sent cards and lifted up prayers.
“We are thankful for everything that everybody did,” Stuart said. “It showed us that we were not standing alone.”
Community steps in
As soon as the article appeared in the newspaper, folks like Hubert Queen, a fellow veteran, rose to the occasion. He was the one who initiated the bank account at Y-12 Federal Credit Union. He visited with the Duke family and the ball was rolling.
Queen has lived in Blount County for many years, having moved here when he was starting grammar school. He knew this community would come through.
“Blount County is one of the best I have ever had the opportunity to live in,” Queen said. “I am never surprised at what the people of Blount County can do, but I am always amazed by it.”
Jim Pedigo, of Foothills Care Inc., part of the Department of Children’s Services Relative Care Program, worked with Stephanie Trost at SunTrust Bank to get the account for the Dukes set up there.
Kathi Parkins, executive director with Family Promise of Blount County, played a huge role in getting this story out and setting up one of the accounts. The money in the Y-12 account has now been moved to the one at SunTrust and the future mortgage payments will be made from there.
Queen said things got a little hectic on the day before the scheduled auction of the Duke home. The case was already in the hands of the auctioneer. All of the red tape was navigated and completed with about three hours to spare.
The story spread from that initial newspaper article into radio and television and the Internet. One donation was received from California. It was definitely a collaborative effort, organizers said.
“Everybody gave something,” Queen said. “That’s what makes our country work.”
Getting back up
There is more good news to report. Stuart got a part-time job that he will be starting soon. He continues to take classes at National College to earn a business degree. The Dukes even got help from his local campus as well as those in Memphis and Nashville.
Beatrice had foot surgery last week in which doctors made seven cuts and installed rods to help ease the pain she had due to abnormalities that had grown and also arthritis. She has been unable to work but will hopefully be ready to return shortly. She is a home health caregiver.
These two are continuing to care for their 14-year-old granddaughter, who just started as a freshman at Heritage High School this week. Now that their mortgage will be paid through next year, they said they will be able to keep up with other bills, like electricity, groceries and water.
The family had canceled their land phone line, cable and Internet as things spiraled downward. At one point, they went without water for three weeks.
“We now know what it’s like for many seniors who have to decide between paying for medicine or paying their electric bill,” Stuart said. “You hear about those cases, but I never dreamed we would be in this situation. Now I’ve experienced that. It isn’t pleasant. I feel it’s more of a shame that this happens to our elderly.”
Reasons to smile
Christmas is just a few months away, something these grandparents worried over. Those donated mortgage payments now mean they will be able to give their grandchildren positive memories.
Whenever Beatrice and Stuart look back on this period of their lives, they will always remember the strangers and friends who stepped up to turn a real tragedy into a celebration. Beatrice said there was a 92-year-old woman who came to their aid. “She told us ‘I have more than I need,’” Beatrice said. She gave the Dukes $1,000 — $500 to pay toward the mortgage and $500 for other household expenses.
Then there’s the man who gave Beatrice a wheelchair to use following her foot surgery. A group of military veterans has also reached out to Stuart and got together with him recently. Girl Scout leaders have seen to it that the Dukes’ granddaughter can participate in their activities.
Stuart moved to Maryville after his time in the Army because he had visited and found it to be a place that still holds onto its small-town feel. He is originally from Maine. “The people here are friendly,” he said. “As you cross over the river and into Blount County, there is such a different feel.”
Beatrice echoed those sentiments. “We have been reminded of what a great place this is to live,” she said.
Queen and Pedigo were both a little surprised at just how fast everything came together. That first article on the Dukes’ predicament was in the newspaper just a week before the home was to be sold. Time was running out.
“This is not something that any one individual could have accomplished,” Queen said. “As a community, we did.”