Betsy grew up on the corner of Grand Street and Pickwick Avenue, in the Rountree Neighborhood: an eclectic, century-old, sidewalked, tree-canopied, university area in Springfield, Missouri. She lived there through college, until we were married in 1986. After a few years away, we ended up settling back in Rountree about 20 years ago. We befriended Johnny and Terry Wilkinson. They lived four doors down from us in a big old house on an oversized lot. It was the house Johnny grew up in. In the 1970s, lots of homeowners in established neighborhoods were taking down crown moldings and covering up wood floors with shag carpet. When many started to flee center city for the modern subdivisions, Johnny’s mom, Virginia, said she wanted to move to the “country” too. Johnny’s dad, Richard, bought the houses directly to the north and south, tore them down, and installed a split rail fence around the property. “There, I brought the country to you,” he told Virginia.
After Richard and Virginia passed away, Johnny and Terry came home to that big old house on Weller Avenue. Johnny had played guitar for Elvis the last 10 years of Presley’s life, then bounced around to different parts of the country. After he returned home, Johnny discovered he was dying of cancer. I helped them take care of some things around the house, but mostly I sat and listened to Johnny tell the greatest stories. He died six years ago, and it was heartbreaking. I tried to help Terry around the house after he was gone. Sadly, her health started to fade a couple of years after Johnny passed and she was struggling to take care of everything herself. For some time we had offered to buy one of their extra lots, but she had always declined. I offered again, and this time she accepted.
I encouraged her to have a realtor friend of hers determine a fair market value for the property, and we bought it in April, 2016. We planned to start building a house in a few months that would generally follow the model of a 1920s bungalow and look like it fit in the neighborhood. Terry was very excited that she would be able to sit in her window and watch the progress. We were about ready to break ground in November, then the election happened. All the emotions of that moment, and the nearly unprecedented divisiveness in the country made it feel like the wrong time to be thinking about things like new construction projects. So, Betsy and I left everything behind and began our journey. One year on the road ended up being more than two years away from Rountree. We decided to return and try to (re)build our new life in our old neighborhood, but we had to start the project without Terry’s watchful eye. She had died of cancer while we were on the road.
We broke ground in September, 2018. Through the expert design and execution of Adrian Rhoads and his crew, we were able to move in this week. We will always be mindful of Johnny and Terry, and feel their loss. But, it’s good to be home.
I apologize for my lack of video production skills, but here’s a rudimentary time lapse of the project.
We have been preoccupied with this project the past few months, but I promise we are moving forward with Something Gigantic. Look for more updates soon!