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Life-changing work

Ex-convict helping build homes for disabled veterans

Tony Marohn holds his 1-month-old daughter, Thelia, at his home in Coeur d’Alene on  April 17. He and Brett Evans are working on a home for disabled veterans. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Tony Marohn holds his 1-month-old daughter, Thelia, at his home in Coeur d’Alene on April 17. He and Brett Evans are working on a home for disabled veterans. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Patty Hutchens Correspondent

When Tony Marohn was released from prison three years ago, he was determined to never return. Having served eight years for manufacturing methamphetamines, Marohn said if he slipped once and was caught, he would be in prison for the rest of this life. Knowing he had a challenging road ahead, Marohn sought help.

He attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and looked around the room for a sponsor, the person who just might save his life.

“Then this man came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to be your sponsor. I’m going to change your life.’ I looked at him like he was crazy,” said Marohn, now 48. The man, David, is an ex-Marine and did, in fact, change Marohn’s life.

“He came up to me that day and gave me his orders, and I’ve been taking his orders every day since. God put him in my life at that time for a reason.”

David took Marohn, who was then living in California, to visit disabled veterans at the Veterans Hospital in Loma Linda, Calif., and Marohn was moved by what he saw – people without arms or legs, breathing through a tube to activate a wheelchair.

“You think of your day and think you have it bad. Then you see these people and your day isn’t so bad after all,” said Marohn, who said the moment he visited these, he knew he wanted to do what he could to help veterans. “We (he and veterans) identify with each other’s problems. I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from prison and they have it from war.”

Shortly afterward, Tony came to Idaho to meet the son he had never met. After meeting his son, already a grown man, Marohn decided to stay in Coeur d’Alene. Shortly thereafter, Marohn was introduced to Dover resident Brett Evans, owner of Evans Rentals, and the two hit it off. They both wanted to do something to give back to their community, and when Marohn mentioned helping veterans, Evans thought it was a great idea.

Evans said disabled veterans are often found in bigger cities – sometimes homeless and wandering the streets. The two decided to build a home specifically for disabled veterans, a place to enjoy the beauty of North Idaho.

“We need to get them out of the busy cities and help them find some peace,” said Evans.

While Evans says he has volunteered time with his church and other organizations, he has never contributed to a major project like this.

“Once he (Tony) used the word ‘helpful,’ I jumped on the bandwagon with both feet,” said Evans.

Evans is financing the first home, which is now under construction in Moyie Springs, north of Sandpoint, on a one-acre parcel of land he owns. With a target completion date of June 1, the house in Moyie Springs is 1,100 square feet with three bedrooms, two baths and an attached two-car garage.

“The garage is the same elevation as the house so (a handicapped person) can wheel their chair right through,” said Evans.

According to Evans, all of the cabinets in the kitchen as well as the bathrooms will all be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The general contractor for the job is Toby Schnuerle of Alpine Construction in Bonners Ferry, who has been building for Evans for the last few years.

In addition to a handicap-accessible bathroom and lower counter tops to accommodate a person in a wheelchair, Schnuerle said they have also adjusted the height of the windows, used 36-inch wide doors and installed the heating system so that it can be controlled in each room of the house.

According to Evans, many of the subcontractors involved in the building have offered to volunteer additional time and donate supplies to increase the value of the home but to also help keep the cost down.

Evans said the framer and his crew are hooking up the water line from the street, an electrician has offered to put a light post at the end of the driveway, and a landscaper has offered to design the landscape plan and will lay the sod free of charge.

“We want to be able to sell this for under $160,000,” said Evans, who adds that the breathtaking view toward Troy and Libby, Mont., will provide a nice place for people to relax and enjoy the beauty of the area.

“With this economy, it is hard to get people to donate,” said Schnuerle. “But everyone is behind him (Evans) and thinks this is a great idea.”

When initially researching the idea, Evans said he spoke with Idaho Housing and Finance Association, which has agreed to finance up to $975 per month for those who qualify. Evans inquired whether Idaho Housing thought there would be a market for such a home.

“They told me we will pull people from all over the country,” said Evans. “They said everyone wants to be in North Idaho.”

Building a spec home specifically targeted for handicapped individuals is unique in this area. While Marohn and Evans initially intended for the home to be used by disabled veterans, they are hoping any person in need of a handicapped accessible home will purchase or rent this home.

According to Schnuerle, the added cost of constructing a home that is ADA compliant is minimal. “More (contractors) should be doing it,” he said.

Evans said he has two more one-acre parcels in Moyie Springs as well as two lots in Old Town near Newport that he intends to use to build homes for disabled veterans.

Evans said this is not a project on which he is hoping to make money; instead the goal is to break even and provide nice homes to people who need them.

The two men are excited about helping others, and Marohn said it feels good to have turned his life around and help others.

“I can now see the good in life and can stop and smell the roses,” he said. “It’s not about what you have, but what you can give to help other people.”

Contact correspondent Patty Hutchens by e-mail at pattyhutchens@yahoo.com.
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