SPOTLIGHT: Family Donates Home to Army Sergeant

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Earl and Anita Johnson could have sold her mother's home and pocketed the profit, but they wanted to give something to the troops.

So they donated the modular home on Woodland Trails Drive in Collinsville, asking only that it go to a worthy family.

On April 24 that worthy family, U.S. Army Sgt. Thomas Walter, 39, his wife, Teresa, 37, son, Thomas Jr., 15, and daughter, Shanna, 14, moved in. But not without quite a lot of fuss.

Mayor John Miller welcomed the family, cut the symbolic ribbon (yellow and emblazoned with "Support the troops") and presented gifts to the family.

The Collinsville Area Chamber of Commerce had a gift basket courtesy of area merchants.

The Collinsville School District had purple Kahok T-shirts.

Home Depot donated a washer and dryer and lawn care equipment including a lawnmower.

Two Men and a Truck donated the move from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Woodland Trails donated three months lot rent, at $360 per month.

An anonymous donor gave money for the taxes on the gift and any utility hookups.

Neighbors and city officials gave a rousing welcome, lining the street to cheer the family as it drove up.

"The home is worth more than $38,000," said Jon Jerome, president of H.E.R.O.E.S. Care based in Fenton, Mo. That stands for Homefront Enabling Relationships, Opportunities and Empowerment through Support.

The home has 2,200 square feet and backs up on a wooded area, which has Thomas Jr. excited.

"Already know I'll love it because there are woods out back," he said.

Jerome said the whole things started with a call from Earl, 69, and Anita, 70. They had bought their dream retirement home and moved to Troy, Mo.

"Actually Hawk Point, Mo.," said Earl. "That's a little town of 600 just west of Troy."

When he retired from Illinois Power Co. a few years ago, the couple had moved in with her mother, Mary Abbitt, who died in 2011.

"This (donating the home) was something her mother wanted to do," Earl said.

"Going way back," Anita added, "to honor the troops."

After some research, the couple selected H.E.R.O.E.S. because of its excellent record of getting its donations directly to the troops, they said.

"They were matched up with the Walters who were just looking for help to relocate as they transitioned out of the Army," Jerome said.

"They were the most deserving family we could find," Jerome said. "They had family in Marion but this was the best opportunity close to that we could find."

Walter has a medical discharge with a 70 percent disability based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after tours of duty in Iraq in 2007-08 and Afghanistan 2010-11.

The family's other son, Terry, joined the Air Force and is in advanced training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Teresa Walter said the welcome was overwhelming. She said all the help has been amazing.

"They called us and said, 'How do you feel about Collinsville?' I knew it was in Illinois and I had heard of it," she said. "It's going to be great."