Family welcomes the community that renovated home

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Brian Epp, 42, couldn't vocalize his greetings, but he welcomed visitors with endless smiles Saturday for the official public unveiling of a volunteer and donation-driven renovation at Epp's Battle Ground home.

The event wasn't an episode of reality TV; it was the real-life manifestation of a community that rallied to help a family in need, said Epp's pastor, Bob Carlson of Brush Prairie Baptist Church.

Epp, father of three boys, ages 8-13; was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2010, three years after his wife, Jennie Epp, was diagnosed with myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. By the following year, Epp was using a walker to mount the staircase to the couple's bedroom and had sustained injuries from frequent falls.

"I remember brainstorming with Brian's dad (Landis Epp) early on about what to do," Carlson said. "We discussed finding them a new place. Our brainstorming was too small. God's plan was bigger."

Epp needed a bedroom on ground level where he could maneuver a power wheelchair.

"If it were up to me, I would put him in bubble wrap to keep him safe," Jennie Epp joked. "But he wants to enjoy life, and I want him to be able to wake up and say, 'Today is going to be a good day.'"

The family considered moving. Instead, the community pooled resources for a $70,000 renovation of the family's existing home.

Epp's friend, Curtis Wharton, organized a group of contractors and businesses to build an addition and add improvements the family hadn't expected, such as an outdoor water feature.

The structural changes, including a ground-level master bedroom and a "drive-though" closet and shower, with a lift, were finished about four months ago, allowing Epp to be relatively independent.

Last week, the final touch of the renovation -- white picket fencing around the yard -- was completed, Epp said. He types his words into a computer monitor on his wheelchair.

The family held the open house Saturday to thank the community that provided the labor and money for the renovation.

"So many people heard of our story on TV, in the newspaper and our blog," Jennie Epp said. "Everyone has been a part of this in some way. We wanted them to see what the community has done."

Epp, a former officer with the Longview Police Department, has lost most of his vocal skills and much of his movement, but he hasn't lost his sense of humor and fun. He said he still enjoys doing wheelchair stunts, taking amusement park rides and doing "other crazy stuff."

His wife's cancer remains in Stage 1 and is growing slowly. Jennie Epp said she isn't seeking treatment, other than a restricted diet and regular doses of prayer.

The family has focused on encouraging others with ALS and living life to the fullest, Carlson said.