NORTH OGDEN -- Joyful emotions ran high Thursday afternoon as Marjorie and George Rice were handed keys to their new North Ogden home, courtesy of the Have a Heart program.
Flags covered the front lawn of the new home, signifying George's four years of service in the U.S. Air Force and his 28 years working as a civilian at Hill Air Force Base.
This is the first home the Have a Heart program has helped with this year, but four homes were awarded last year. Currently in its 11th year, the Have a Heart program is a service arm of the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors and Northern Wasatch Home Builders Association. Have a Heart contributors build new-construction homes for people with low incomes, those requiring wheelchair accessibility, military and special-needs families.
Family and friends hugged and greeted Marjorie and George with tears in their eyes. The two just arrived in Utah on Wednesday evening from Nauvoo, Ill.
They moved from Utah 12 years ago when George was called to be in the temple presidency for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in New York. After that, the two moved to Nauvoo to work in the LDS temple there. Once there, George suffered a debilitating stroke in 2006, leaving him paralyzed on his left side and wheelchair-bound. The two have been trying to get back to Utah, closer to family and friends, since the stroke, but they were unable to sell their home.
So that's what makes the Rice's story of home ownership in North Ogden something of a miracle for them. Marjorie's sister, Evelene Rice, who is married to George's brother, saw something in the newspaper about the Have a Heart program building a home in North Ogden that was wheelchair-accessible. Evelene sent the newspaper clipping to Marjorie.
"She's always been a writer, and I knew she could write a nice letter," Evelene said. Have a Heart organizers called Marjorie shortly after and told her she was a finalist for the home.
"The only problem was we still had our home in Nauvoo," Marjorie said. Two days later, a young couple called and told Marjorie they wanted to buy their Nauvoo home. The next day, Have a Heart organizers called Marjorie and George and said they had qualified for the North Ogden home.
"It was a miracle all the way around, along with plenty of faith and prayers," said Charlann Mead, George's sister.
Marjorie and George's siblings talked of all the blessings the two had received to make the journey back to Utah. Friends purchased plane tickets for the Rices and paid the expenses for their daughter to get to Nauvoo and drive their belongings to Utah. But because of the Rices' loving attitudes, no one is surprised.
"They are angels on earth, those two," Mead said.
Those are just the kind of people Bob Hill, president of the Northern Utah Association of Realtors, likes to see get the homes through the Have a Heart program.
"All the people we have helped have been wonderful," Hill said. "This home is unique because we have never done a handicapped home or a home for a veteran."
The Rices will pay a deeply discounted rate for the home, said Susan Allen, president of Northern Wasatch Homebuilders Association. Nilson Homes is the home designer and builder.
"It is very timely," Allen said of having a home for a veteran in tough economic times, which is another reason Hill is thankful for the generosity of all the groups that donated time, materials and money.
"This is just awesome," George Rice said as he sat in the entryway of his new home. He joked that it was interesting buying a home he had never seen before, but also added that he had developed a true trust for those involved and knew that everything would be just what they wanted, which it was.
"It is just like coming home in many ways," he said. He is originally from South Ogden, but has roots in North Ogden, with his great-grandparents being from the community. He also has two sisters living just blocks away from him.
"We are certainly coming home to the right place," he said.
Marjorie, through happy tears, said, "We are thrilled to be home."