Johnnie Hodges went home today.
The 90-year-old World War II veteran had been evicted from his house on a stretcher this summer after falling behind on the mortgage because he’d been caring for his mortally ill wife. He returned in fantastic style, in time for Veterans Day next week.
Hodges was surrounded by his family and friends, as well as fellow veterans and elected officials, as he made his way to the porch of his home on Humboldt Parkway in Buffalo, New York. A crowd of about 100 people cheered him on, and his grandsons introduced him by simply saying, “This is our granddad, and he’s the man.”
“It couldn’t have been any better,” Johnnie Hodges told Yahoo Real Estate. “We just had a little rain, but that didn’t stop anybody.”
Hodges’ story hit a nerve not only in Buffalo, the city he’s called home his entire life, but all across the country. When the Buffalo News first reported that this veteran was being evicted, it inspired Greg Elwood – a man who didn’t even know Hodges – to create a GoFundMe account to help put Hodges back in his home. But the pressure was on: The Hodges family needed $50,000 by Nov. 5 to buy back the house. By late October they were about $15,000 shy.
After we shared the story, generous Yahoo readers made sure he’d get home. The fundraising goal was met within a few hours of the story’s release. Within a few days, the account had received $110,000 – including donations from a 6-year-old’s lemonade stand, Elwood said in a GoFundMe update.
And almost all of that happened Oct. 19, the birthday of Hodges’ late wife, Flora. She died two years ago after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.
“The whole journey has been just wonderful, even though it appeared to be really bad at first,” their daughter, Robin Hodges, tells Yahoo Real Estate. “I have to give praise to God. This was all God. He touched the hearts of people who exhibited such love and kindness and concern.”
Robin Hodges hugs the son of Greg Elwood, in the background, who organized the GoFundMe campaign for Johnnie Hodges.
The house meant a lot to the Hodges family. Johnnie and Flora bought it almost 60 years ago, and it was where they raised Robin and her brother, Johnnie Hodges Jr.
“That’s the only place that was my home,” Robin Hodges told Yahoo in October. “It’s where I was born and raised and nurtured and had a warm, loving family.”
Johnnie Hodges worked at Bethlehem Steel for decades, where he was the first African-American foreman, before the company shut down the plant. As recently as five years ago, he was still working as a part-time bus driver, when his aging body and his wife’s ailing health forced him to retire.
“My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008 and after that, things just kind of got lost,” Robin Hodges says.
Johnnie was her primary caretaker except when, at the very end, he needed the help of an aide.
She died last year, in that home, with her husband by her side.
Afterward, the family found out that Johnnie Hodges had fallen behind on second mortgage payments, taken out in the 1990s to begin repairs on the aging property.
Eventually, Hodges was forced to leave, though he refused to do it.
When police officers arrived July 9 to carry out the eviction, he told them they’d have to handcuff him. They refused to do that, and eventually, after a standoff of nearly two hours, he was carried out on an ambulance stretcher—his blue Navy hat perched on his head—in some form of compromise. All his possessions were packed up in several trucks over the next three days and scurried away to storage.
Johnnie Hodges cuts the ribbon on his new-old home Nov. 6.
By the end of the month, Johnnie Hodges will be fully moved back in. He has a few repairs to do; not even on this day of celebration did he stop, heading to Home Depot with his grandsons, Robin Hodges says.
The house has been the family’s again since Robin Hodges closed on it Wednesday.
Johnnie Hodges, who had been staying in a seniors apartment complex in Cheektowaga, New York, about 10 miles outside Buffalo, says he’s looking forward to returning for good.
“The first thing I will do is going to the familiar places I enjoy,” he says. “I’m too far away from the city now.”
The Patriot’s Guard Riders, a motorcycle club, stood with the Jesse Clipper American Legion Post 430 with American flags.
Hodges, with the oversize scissors, stands with his daughter, Robin, surrounded by her adult twin sons, Cory and Casey, as well as her younger son, Jonathan, and elected officials Nov. 6.
Johnnie Hodges, 90, told police to cuff him if they wanted to evict him, but after a two-hour standoff, they settled on carrying him out on a stretcher. (Photo: Derek Gee, Buffalo News)
Flora and Johnnie Hodges, in an undated photo provided by their daughter, Robin.
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