Annie Babcock is home. Again. And on June 19 she slept in it for the first time in almost 10 years.
"It felt great to sleep here and wake up the next day knowing I was in my house," the 84 year old said. "My house! It was so wonderful."
The Babcock house story has been well documented: Annie and her husband George built their dream house along Little Bear Creek in 1975. The retirees decided to remodel in 2001 but were ripped-off by a shady contractor for over $250,000. A year later, George passed away, leaving Annie alone — the couple had no children — to deal with the legal and financial burdens from a one-bedroom apartment nearby. Meanwhile, the Babcock property became a dumping ground for trash — a rusted car frame, loose tires and pallets and broken television sets littered the property — and a target for young vandals. A rotting tree had crashed upon the roof, creating a gaping hole where rainwater poured in. The property was in shambles.
Then something very special happened. Babcock family friend Jason Burt and former Woodinville police chief John McSwain organized a clean-up party.
"Our plan from the beginning was to just get it cleaned up and boarded up to preserve what was here so at some point she could do something with it if she wanted to," McSwain said. "And then people like Marc Perry, an electrician, stepped up and offered to do some wiring work. Once the power came on I think people began to see that the place could actually be fixed. You could almost feel the house come back to life."
Annie remembers the work party well.
"They came on a Saturday — all these people I didn’t even know — and cleaned things up and I thought that was it," she said. "I thought it was over. And then Jason and John came back and said a group of people had decided to do this, this, this and this. And it grew from there."
Running water was restored; the roof was torn down and rebuilt. Volunteers continued to show up to lend a hand in their respective specialties: plumbing, mold remediation, window glass. Framing and insulation and sheet rock were installed and new coats of paint were applied. From interior work to landscaping to paving to debris removal, all materials and labor were donated and the renovation of the Babcock house became a community volunteer project that continued to gain momentum.
"It seemed like all along the way someone would call or knock on the door and say ‘Do you need this? Would this help?’ And it was always at the right time," McSwain said.
It was a two-year process, and two weeks ago McSwain, now a King County sheriff, sent out the following e-mail to the hundreds of volunteers — including over 50 local businesses — that had a hand in the project in one way or another: "Landscaping done, plants planted, grass growing! Exterior siding repaired and house painted! Roof installed! Wiring installed! Insulation installed! Cable hooked up and operational! Alarm hooked up and operational! Carpet will be completed today! Plumbing will be completed today! Painting will be completed today! Appliances will be delivered today and installed tomorrow! I guess that means one thing: IT’S TIME TO MOVE ANNIE HOME!"
Two nights later, Babcock would sleep in her house. She called it a miracle.
"This house was ready to be torn down," she said. "And then people I didn’t even know came here to volunteer. They gave their time, their effort and their money. They kept coming and just shrugged their shoulders and said ‘No sweat.’ It was unbelievable."
Annie then paused, and her emotions got the best of her.
"Sometimes I get so overwhelmed," she said. "I just feel so grateful and sometimes feel like ‘Why me?’ "
What does she like best about the house? "Oh, I love everything," she said with a laugh, though she was particularly pleased with her brand new double oven, which she purchased herself. (Annie bakes major batches of world-class cookies that she provides to the Woodinville Senior Center on a regular basis.)
And what, she was asked finally, might her husband George say about the whole Babcock house endeavor?
She paused again, pushing back the tears.
"He would say ‘this is what we wanted the whole time,’ " she said softly. "He would be grateful and he would say ‘thank you all very, very much.’ "
And she said it with the loveliest, most heartwarming smile you’d ever be privileged to see.