September 3, 2007

Delano residents exhibit plenty of 'Minnesota Nice'

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Four Delano residents, including two photographers, a sprinkler fitter (someone who installs fire protection units), and a public relations/graphic design artist, all donated time throughout the past few weeks at the site of a new home construction for a Minnetonka family brought together by a tragedy.

The homebuilding process will be featured on the hit ABC television show “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” in a two-hour 100th episode special Sunday, Nov. 25.

The episode will feature the Swenson-Lee family of Minnetonka, which went from a family of three to a family of nine following the homicide death of Vicki Swenson’s sister. One more addition is expected to the family in the near future with the impending birth of Vicki’s baby.

Joe McDonald of McDonald’s Photography Studio of Delano, along with his father, KJ McDonald of Watertown, and Linda Motzko of Linda’s Photography of Delano, and her daughter, Megan, all volunteered their time to shoot this special event.

Kari Palmer, who has lived in Delano for just over two years, has had TJB Builders of Blaine, the homebuilder, as a client of her graphic design company Image is Everything, and was enlisted by TJB to help with public relations coordination for the makeover event.

Delano resident Craig Bistodeau, who is a professional sprinkler fitter, said there was a contractor that typically works with TJB Homes, but that the crew wasn’t big enough to do the installations in the time frame needed.

“They called to our local union, and I’m a part of the union board,” Bistodeau said. “They asked the union if someone wanted to donate some time, and I said that’d be cool, and it’s in my neck of the woods. It’d be an experience, and great way to promote our industry in fire protection.”

The local shutterbugs were able to capture the home construction throughout the entire process – from the surprise doorknock to let the family know about the plans, to the actual construction and building of the home, and ultimately the final chant of “Bus driver – move that bus!” in which show host Ty Pennington instructs the driver to move the large bus from in front of the home and unveils it to the family.

Ironically, Motzko said the two local photographers were contacted through different avenues to be a part of capturing the events for the homebuilder, TJB Homes, owned by Thomas Budzynski.

McDonald has shot some homes Budzynski has built in the past, and was again contacted to be a part of this project, and Motzko received a referral for the project.

“It just worked out because there was no way either one of us could have done it 24/7,” Motzko said.

For everyone involved in this project, there wasn’t much advance notice about it, and keeping things confidential was a must until the doorknock took place for the Swenson-Lee family.

“We only had about four weeks notice on this whole gig from the start of it to the beginning of the building,” Budzynski said. “It was a tremendous amount of planning, and just building the infrastructure.”

Meetings took place with all contractors, suppliers, and different people who would be involved in all aspects of building the 5,600-square-foot house in such a short time period.

Budzynski said he found out about being asked to do the house for this family, literally, in the middle of the night.

“They’re on California time,” he said with a laugh. Initially, a message was left asking if the company would be interested in constructing the home for this family, but at the end of the message, the company was asked if it would be willing to donate it.

“We decided it’s a pretty good cause,” Budzynski said, admitting a little nervousness about the whole thing, especially with the down market. After deciding to go ahead with the project, he said the following week, he wore his knees to the bone trying to get all of the people he works with on a regular basis on board.

“To be honest with you, everyone but our lumberyard jumped in,” he said. “We ended up going all over the city, begging.”

Eventually, fate fell into place, and TJB Homes found lumber from 84 Lumber, which has done several houses for Extreme Makeover Home Edition in the past.

Preliminary things began happening at the house Aug. 21, including the removal of the family’s furniture, which was donated to a local church.

“That’s the first day we covered,” Motzko said. “The very next morning, we photographed the ‘Braveheart,’ which is the walk of everyone who was going to be involved, to the house.”

McDonald also photographed the “Braveheart,” and said he was also able to photograph scenes the following evening for several hours.

“Once you got there, it was just infectious,” Palmer said. “You didn’t want to leave. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.”

McDonald also arranged to fly over the site to get some aerial shots with local pilot Calvin Brandt of Delano.

“We were able to photograph all the progress from the outside and inside – all the way through,” Motzko said. She and her daughter photographed three full days and two half days of the project. However, once the home is constructed, the key is turned over to the designer, and it is locked down.

“What the designers do is top secret,” Motzko said, but added that she was there the day Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty visited the house, along with United States Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Minnesota Viking Tony Richardson.

As for the building of the home itself, Budzynski said it was actually a very smooth building process.

“There were times we were ahead two hours, and times we were back an hour,” he said. His schedule allotted for the home to be built in 96 hours, while the show’s schedule estimates 106. It was finished at 3 p.m. last Monday, he said.

Bistodeau said it would usually take several weeks to install a sprinkler system in a 5,600 square-foot house, but said he and his crew were given five hours.

“There were over 200 people in the house just working,” he said, adding it’s typical to have one or two other tradesmen in the home at the same time as him. Fire protection runs on an average $2 per square foot, which Bistodeau said would add up to about $11,000 of fire protection that was donated for the house.

“It was very, very cool,” Motzko said about the short amount of time it took to build such a large house. “It was so unbelievable to me.”

Of all the previous homes Extreme Makeover Home Edition has done for people across the United States, this is the first that had a sprinkler system installed, Bistodeau said.

“It wasn’t about the glitz and glamour, or ABC and their Hollywood version of it,” Bistdodeau said. “But rather, more about the family – it really is, and that’s what Joe and I were talking about.”

Budzynski agreed, and said there is a value in the whole community coming together for a project like this.

“It’s for the community and God,” he said. “In doing it, it may give them some rewards as a company in the future when people say, ‘wow, these guys stepped forward. That’s pretty cool.’”

“Part of this whole deal is getting competitors to take down their colors and know you’re all out there together,” Budzynski said. “This is one unity to give, and what it’s all about – electricians, plumbers, framers – we used all of our normal people, but they’re not big enough to do this, so we had to reach out to other people in the business.”

Some people would come work on the home for hours, leave, and get four hours of sleep, and come back and give another full day.

“Talk about an outpouring,” Budzynski said. “It’s all ‘Minnesota nice.’ People like to see good, and to see good created for others.”

The Swenson-Lee family returned to Minnesota Tuesday following a trip they took while the home was being built, and returned in style in a large limousine. They were brought alongside the bus, and arrived at their usually quiet neighborhood to many screams and cheers.

After a brief visit with Pennington, the traditional “Bus driver – move that bus!” was shouted by everyone in attendance, and the family was able to see and enter their new home for the first time.

Budzynski said the family was shocked, and incredibly excited about their new residence.

“They had a home before, but brought the other family in. Now, they’ve created a home for the whole family,” he said. “It feels like this is where they belong.”

“It is a wonderful honor to be part of such a great project,” McDonald said. “It’s great to be a part in helping out this family that has gone through so much.”

Motzko said the days she and her daughter were there just “flew by,” and said the whole thing was extremely exciting.

McDonald said he enjoyed being able to speak with Pennington, and also design team members Paul DiMeo, Michael Moloney, Paige Hemmis, and Tracy McQueen, who are all regularly featured on the hit show.

“It was an honor to be involved to help the family, and the issue at large,” Palmer said, relating that the reason the family blended together to begin with was because of domestic violence.

Both Delano photographers did a great job of shooting the construction from start to finish, and Budzynski said he is looking forward to seeing the behind-the-scenes DVD that is in the works, which will feature footage from KJ McDonald, as well as the images from the Motzkos and Joe McDonald.

“They did a great job – I’ve seen some of the photos and they both did a fantastic job,” Budzynski said. “I can’t wait until we get the whole DVD put together.”

Both Motzko and McDonald were impressed by the number of workers and people who came to help with the construction of the home.

“They all wanted to help contribute toward the betterment of others’ lives,” McDonald said.

“It’s creating heroes,” Budzynski said. “When you get down to it, that’s what they all were.”

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