Rural West Union family chosen for new home from 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'

2011-10-03T07:30:00Z 2011-10-07T12:35:08Z Rural West Union family chosen for new home from 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'By KRISTIN GUESS, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

WEST UNION, Iowa --- Early Sunday, Audrey Gibbs and her six children awoke to what would be the last day in their home as they knew it.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" host Ty Pennington and his design crew sounded an air horn in front of the Gibbs' home north of West Union on Iowa Highway 150, signifying they were the winners of a new home.

"It's all been overwhelming since they said ‘Good morning,'" Audrey Gibbs said.

Film crews began recording while hundreds of volunteers lined up for the first day of the week-long project.

Larson Construction Co. of Independence and thousands of volunteers will work around the clock to construct the new home with amenities needed by the family.

Gibbs lost her husband to cancer in August 2000, and seven months later developed a brain aneurism.

A quarter of Gibbs' brain was affected, leaving her legally blind.

"I chose to go blind because, with going to the doctors, and with the financing of that, I chose to go blind, and be back here with the kids more. That way we could maybe afford some things to get through life, like heating," she said.

The family moved into the farmhouse and rented portions of property to local farmers. Her diagnosis meant the loss of her career as a cosmetologist, so she began massage therapy classes, something she could continue without eyesight.

Daily obstacles became greater as their home showed drastic signs of wear - no working toilet and a caving ceiling. Living space was condensed with only three bedrooms.

"I just want to say thanks to the community. It's great. I was overwhelmed by how much people are here, how much support there has been. It's been a long many 10, 11 years. It's great to see everything," Audrey Gibbs said.

Leann Popenhagen, a longtime friend of the family, chose to put her construction experience to use and spend the week volunteering.

"They were kind of like a second family for a long time. They stayed with us when Audrey was in the hospital...I've just been kind of like their surrogate mom in a way, and they're just great kids," she said.

Nathan Gibbs, 19, is looking forward to "seeing his mom with less stress and a better living arrangement for the younger siblings."

"I'd like to thank the community for stepping up and coming out here today. That meant a lot to us. And seeing a couple people I looked up to quite a bit with my dad passing away, it means a lot to me that they could show up today and be here," he said.

The family prepared for a vacation at Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida while crews set up tents and mobilized machinery.

Ed Larson, and his wife Janet, of Larson Construction Co. are pleased to be a part of the project.

"If you know the story and what they've had to struggle with the last 10 years, Audrey is a very remarkable lady for what she's done to raise her six kids," Ed Larson said.

General volunteers are still needed for 2-to-8 a.m. shifts. Visit for more information on how to volunteer time and/or resources.



WEST UNION, Iowa --- Television personality Ty Pennington and his "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crew arrived in rural West Union this morning to surprise a widow of six that she was getting a new home.

The door knock came to the home of Audrey Gibbs, a widowed farm owner who is raising six children despite having serious health concerns, including being declared legally blind.

The Gibbs family will be the recipients of a new home by the home makeover television show. The EM:HE design team has seven days to build a new home for the Gibbs family.

Hundreds of local volunteers are being enlisted to help the Larson Construction Co. of Independence.

On Sunday morning, the family was whisked away on a vacation to Boca Raton Resort & Club, while Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team leader Ty Pennington, designers Paul DiMeo, Tracy Hutson, Sabrina Soto, Jeff Dye and Larson Construction get to work on the new home.

According to Extreme Makeover officials, Audrey's husband died in 2000. Seven months later, she had a brain aneurism that affected a quarter of her brain and left her legally blind. Audrey had surgery in 2001.

The illness forced her to leave her job as a cosmetologist. She then took massage therapy classes.

Show officials said the Gibbs family owns and lives on a farm, in which they rent portions to local farmers for additional income. "Their farmhouse is in need of significant repair with no working toilet, a ceiling that is caving in and a layout that does not work for the family -- especially Audrey if she completely loses her eyesight," according to a press release from show officials.

The Gibbs children range in age from 13 to 20 with the oldest in college.

Courier staff on the scene Sunday said the white farmhouse appears older and rundown. It has a one-car garage. Highway 150 north of West Union, where the home is located, is blocked off, and traffic is being rerouted.

Today, the TV crew was doing some filming of the home. It is slated for demolition at 10 a.m. Monday.

Spectators will not be allowed at the site, which is just north of West Union, until Tuesday morning. Spectators can park at the Fayette County Fairgrounds, 100 W. Franklin St., entrance, and will then be shuttled to the build site.

All spectators are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. Spectators also should plan for lengthy periods of standing.

There is also a raffle being held in conjunction with the makeover. Tickets are $5 each or five for $20. Prizes include an exclusive tour of the Extreme Makeover home, autographed hardhat by Ty Pennington and the design crew and autographed T-shirts by Ty and the design crew.

The drawing will be held Saturday; you need not be present to win. Contact Janelle Darst at or (319) 273-3676, to purchae tickets.

Funds raised will go toward the Family/Build Fund to help pay for items for the family home, medical bills and other expenses.

The Emmy-award winning reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, now in its ninth season, is produced by Endemol USA, a division of Endomol Holding. The show airs Sundays from 7 to 8 p.m. on ABC.

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(22) Comments

  1. chrislac
    Report Abuse
    chrislac - October 04, 2011 9:57 am
    Wow, love the personal attacks on here. I never said I thought it was in Waterloo or CF, actually I said the opposite. As far as you living in Cedar Falls and volunteering, awesome. I am genuinely happy that enough people can make time to volunteer for this to make it happen. I DON'T live in CF, I live a bit father away, which makes it difficult to schedule some time in and almost impossible THIS WEEK to do so. If it was a different time, I could do it. Or maybe I'm making this whole thing up just so I don't have to volunteer. Think what you want, you will anyway.

    Once again, congratulations to the family and thank you to all the wonderful volunteers that could make this worthwhile project happen.
  2. theperfectone79
    Report Abuse
    theperfectone79 - October 04, 2011 12:09 am
    This was my childhood home from the time I was born until we moved to town when I was 7. My dad worked this farm and a couple others nearby. The house was in pretty bad shape back then, I believe it was over 100 years old when WE lived in it. One winter it was so cold and the wind was blowing so bad that the curtains moved. We all had to gather in the living room with 2 oil burners just to keep warm. At the time it was just the 4 of us, my parents Jim and Arla Pape, my big sister Jewel and me. We moved to Missouri in 1973 after my dad sold all his land and farm equipment, plus our house in town. I had nothing but good memories in that house. My father worked very hard on his farms. He passed away this year in April and I think he would be laughing about this whole thing.
  3. Bubbaman
    Report Abuse
    Bubbaman - October 03, 2011 11:51 pm
    How would Larsen Construction from Independence make you thing that the project would be in CF/WLOO? Independence is about 45 min from the metro area, as well as from West Union. I personally have been to the house 3 times already, and plan on going at least 2 more times. By the way, I live in Cedar Falls. I'm not saying you should all volunteer, but don't complain that the show mislead anyone into thinking that it was in CF. They first stated that it was in NE Iowa, then narrowed it down to Fayette county, then to West Union.
  4. first amendment
    Report Abuse
    first amendment - October 03, 2011 11:24 pm
    I'm taking a day off of work and driving an hour to help. I am doing it because I want to be part of something bigger than myself and I want to help others. If you really wanted to volunteer you'd do it. But that's society today. We'll volunteer as long as it is convenient. Well, that's not what I believe, so here's to a day doing something great, even though is isn't quite in my backyard.
  5. momof62012
    Report Abuse
    momof62012 - October 03, 2011 10:09 pm
    I dislike auto correct! :)
  6. chrislac
    Report Abuse
    chrislac - October 03, 2011 9:44 pm
    Thank you for clearing the well issue up for me, SS1964. I definitely agree with you about wanting to volunteer but having a long drive and it cutting down or eliminating hours of availability. Another reason I thought it would be closer was because Larson's out of Independence was working on it too. As long of a drive as it is for volunteers, it must also be a very long drive for the construction workers. I'm sure it will be much appreciated!
  7. petlvr
    Report Abuse
    petlvr - October 03, 2011 9:26 pm
    I am excited for the Gibbs family becuse even though I have never met them there is a family conection in a couple ways first they are my aunts cousins and second the house is on my granpas broters old farm. He sold it a long time ago so i dont know if he sold it to them or not. But it is just wried but my whole family is from up there. My aunt is going to try and volintree thrursday night. There story is awsome too they totaly deserve this.
  8. momof62012
    Report Abuse
    momof62012 - October 03, 2011 9:15 pm
    And yes the family new months in advance. They Caledonia us in may and worked with up till July. Family was not surprised Oct 2 and they have been working g before then.
  9. momof62012
    Report Abuse
    momof62012 - October 03, 2011 9:12 pm
    I agree with it being overwhelming! We too were nominated and called by the producers! There is so much involved that I think lot of people are unaware. After working with them we decided to turn it away. This home is now considerd income on your taxes. Which is generally 500,000. They only give a years worth of property tax after that is runs about 6,000. And the list goes on. Extreme Makeover is not concerned about family as much as ratings! The more drama they can add to their story line the better. When we were working with them they wanted someone sick, dying or disabled! We are a healthy family who li es others and give back to the community by doing different things. That's what they ask right how is this family deserving how does this family give back to he community! We were confused on what they were looking for and then we figured it purity wasn't about giving back to a deserving g family which gives to their community its about how can we get people to watch so we get paid how can we manipulate the companies with a safe story to donate the goods. Its a show if deception and I feel for this family because in the li g run its going to turn wants everyone leaves and she will have mire to bare than she can handle. I am blessed we prayed and the Lord revealed that to us to protect us from the destruction that lies ahead. Pray for this family!
  10. unipanther
    Report Abuse
    unipanther - October 03, 2011 4:47 pm
    Its nice they have a new house, however if they couldn't afford a house before, needing support from neighbors, what makes you think they can afford a brand new house? There are many on going cost -- utilities, insurance, tax, and maintenance. Eventually she'll go broke again and struggle financially.

    Wasn't this show advertising they build the house in a week? If they're already working on a well -- then its more then a week!
  11. SS1964
    Report Abuse
    SS1964 - October 03, 2011 3:26 pm
    I believe many ppl thought the location was close to the CF area since the kick off party was in CF. My home address is CF but phone and school are Hudson, I have a well and live in city limits.
  12. chrislac
    Report Abuse
    chrislac - October 03, 2011 11:52 am
    First of all, let me give a giant CONGRATS to the family!

    Okay, now there were several clues that I saw that told me that it would not be in Cedar Falls, Waterloo, or inside a town.

    First, if you look at the "Related Stories" section of this article, there was another article written about this, titled: "'Extreme Makeover' show drums up support for upcoming Fayette project" I assumed since they weren't releasing the location, it was located in Fayette county. Last time I checked, Waterloo or CF is located in Black Hawk county.

    I also read somewhere (I thought it was the Courier, but I can't find where it is) stating that before anything could be done, they would have to drill them a new well, because of some sort of contamination. Generally speaking, people who live inside town boundaries don't have wells.

    Again, congrats go out to this family and I wish them well.
  13. scooterbug
    Report Abuse
    scooterbug - October 03, 2011 10:33 am
    Where did you get the idea cf was the place where the makeover home would be? I did not read one article that said where the home was located.

    Tough to hear, but the world does not revolve around cf. Shocking, I know. lol
  14. jd2004retiree
    Report Abuse
    jd2004retiree - October 03, 2011 8:44 am
    wujethro said: "thank you jd2004retiree for your thoughtful intelligent comment. the wu in my name stands for west union, and as a uni grad i am quite familiar with the road between west union and cedar falls. perhaps you should broaden your horizons. the world is not flat, and it doesn't end at the county line. "

    Don't get your grundies in a wad there WU. Why attack me on a statement I made referring to all the media that has bold faced lied about the past few weeks. A project of this magnitude would be next to impossible to be kept quiet. And in closing, you have no means of knowing anything about my intelligence.
  15. SS1964
    Report Abuse
    SS1964 - October 03, 2011 8:26 am
    I agree it is a long way from CF meaning that woring all day and having small children but still wanting to volunteer, it makes it hard to get there. I will now not be able to volunteer since the location is too far for me to drive,and be home at a decent time to continue my daily responsibalities. Maybe they could have stated it was within a certain mile radius of CF. I do wish them well and know it will all come together! : )
  16. Stylistkaren
    Report Abuse
    Stylistkaren - October 02, 2011 9:53 pm
    I am SO excited to be able to be a part of the group of volunteers to work on this house. Being an avid viewer of EM: HE I think it's great that it's been to Iowa TWICE now, and helping well deserving families! I'm eager to get to the area and help with what I can and be there to MOVE THAT BUS and see their awesome reaction!
  17. wujethro
    Report Abuse
    wujethro - October 02, 2011 8:44 pm
    thank you jd2004retiree for your thoughtful intelligent comment. the wu in my name stands for west union, and as a uni grad i am quite familiar with the road between west union and cedar falls. perhaps you should broaden your horizons. the world is not flat, and it doesn't end at the county line.
  18. eureka1951
    Report Abuse
    eureka1951 - October 02, 2011 7:59 pm
    This story brought tears to my eyes. Who cares where they are from. This family is so deserving and I bet these kids are amazing! Adversity does that to some people. Can't wait to watch the show when it airs! WTG Home Makeover!
  19. fredE
    Report Abuse
    fredE - October 02, 2011 6:45 pm
    you did it babe, you and the kids hung in there and did it. now its off to work on your new house, cant wait to see your reaction when you get back from Fl.
  20. first amendment
    Report Abuse
    first amendment - October 02, 2011 6:38 pm
    UNI had the biggest facility in the region to handle such a rally that could have attracted a lot more people than it did. Additionally, if they hold the rally at North Fayette high school, or even Upper Iowa U. its kind of a dead give away. Does the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area have to have all of the publicity and good things happen there? Be happy for the family that is most certainly going to have their lives changed for the better.
  21. scooterbug
    Report Abuse
    scooterbug - October 02, 2011 6:14 pm
    How wonderful for them! :)

  22. jd2004retiree
    Report Abuse
    jd2004retiree - October 02, 2011 5:31 pm
    LONG way from Cedar Falls......
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Follow the Courier

Most Popular

Featured Businesses

Circulation Specials