"I didn't have noplace to go": Hawkins ministry seeks help repairing disabled vet's condemned home

Jeff Bobo • Apr 16, 2017 at 1:00 PM
ROGERSVILLE — When George Yonas’ house in Surgoinsville was condemned recently by the local building inspector, he had a very good excuse for refusing to comply with a vacate order.

The 76-year-old disabled veteran had nowhere else to go.

The house’s biggest problem is the foundation, which has been seriously damaged by backyard tree roots.

Most of the trees have been removed, but the rear foundation and wall have bowed out several inches and are on the verge of collapse.

Now the Rogersville-based Of One Accord ministry is trying to generate enough help — an estimated $12,000 to $15,000 worth — to repair the foundation as well as other problems with the house.

Mickey Wilcox, who is program director of the ministry’s Operation Good Neighbor, was able to negotiate with the building inspector to delay the condemnation, hopefully long enough for the foundation and other problems to be repaired.

For more than two decades, the program has hosted church mission teams from across the Southeast and rallied local resources to repair homes of the poor, disabled and elderly in Hawkins County.

Several projects are completed every summer thanks to contributions of labor, materials and money. Every once in a while, however, the ministry comes across a project like George Yonas’ house on Hill Street which requires assistance far beyond the means of the ministry.

“We’ll have to excavate the foundation, tear out the rubble, and install a new foundation,” Wilcox told the Times-News last week. “From what we can tell, the footer is still in good shape. But there’s a 30-foot wall and a 40-foot wall (of concrete block foundation) that must be removed, and we have to rebuild that block foundation. Then we’ll set the house back down on top of it.”

The house recently received a new metal roof, but the water damage that previously occurred to the ceiling and walls needs to be repaired as well.

Early one morning, the ceiling above Yonas’ bed fell down on him while he and his Chihuahua named Bear were sleeping.

There are also problems with exterior siding, guttering, the porch, windows, doors, soffit and other areas of the house. If the foundation isn’t repaired, however, the other problems are a moot point because the structure will eventually collapse.

Foundation replacement is not a job that can be completed by the average church mission team and will require a heavy excavator and an operator.

“Some of this work takes specialty talents and skill set,” Wilcox said. “We have a plan to temporarily stabilize the house, and we’ve got the material onsite. A mission team from Mississippi will be coming in to help with this project.”

Wilcox added, “I know $12,000 to $15,000 sounds like a lot of money, but for a project of this depth, it’s really not that much money. We’re able to keep that down because this (Mississippi) team is committed to come in and do some of the manual labor and has already donated some money for the project. So we’re able to say we’re going to be able to do some of it at this point.”

In the 51 years that Yonas has lived in that house, he put two shingle roofs on it before the metal roof was installed.

His friends call him “Mountain Man” due to his superior talents as a hunter and outdoorsman.

Yonas is retired from the Church Hill Holliston Mills plant where he worked 35 years, and he also served two years in the 101st Airborne Division, making approximately 20 jumps as a “Screaming Eagle” at Fort Campbell, Ky.

He said he jumped the first time, “and they had to push me out the rest of the times.”

Aside from being an avid hunter, he was also a well-known drag racer at Cherokee Raceway Park in Rogersville for about 10 years, winning approximately 40 races in his 1957 Chevy.

He’d like to be able to do the work himself, but the ailments he suffered in recent years including a broken hip and leg have prevented him from maintaining the house. His son Chris is also disabled and partly blind.

Yonas blames four poplar trees he planted in the 1970s for damaging his foundation.

Three of those trees were recently cut down, but the fourth has a large limb hanging over the house, and there is concern about it landing on the house if the tree is cut.

“I put the trees out there about 40 years ago,” Yonas said. “I had ginseng back there, and I put poplar trees back in there because ginseng grows good around poplar trees. Then a blight hit my ginseng and killed it, and the trees survived. They took over and about ran me out of my house.

“When you’re working, you can work overtime and get stuff fixed, but when you get retired and on a fixed income, you don’t expect stuff like this. But it happens.”

Wilcox said he believes a couple of hard rains could cause the foundation to collapse. Volunteers will be jacking up the backside of the house from the basement to build a temporary wall until the permanent foundation is replaced.

In fact, that’s the project Wilcox was seeking approval for when the building inspector condemned the house.

“He was going to run me out of my house,” Yonas said. “I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t have noplace to go.”

The inspector has agreed to delay the condemnation hearing long enough for the repairs to be made, Wilcox said.

“Basically our goal is, by the end of the summer, to refurbish this house so that it’s safe, it’s livable, it’s weather tight, and Mr. Yonas can live out his days in comfort and not worry about whether or not his house is going to fall over.”

Anyone interested in contributing labor, materials or funds to help repair Yonas’ house can call the Of One Accord ministry at (423) 921-8044.

Other related stories:

Of One Accord mission group builds new house for 91-year-old for homeless WWII vet  

One year later, elderly Hawkins County woman enjoying her new home           

Elderly Rogersville woman gets new roof thanks to church mission program


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