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'Extreme Makeover' marches into Northland

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OAKLAND TOWNSHIP, Wis. - A tour bus followed by a procession of construction equipment pulled up in front of a dilapidated rural home in Wisconsin's Oakland Township on Monday morning, radically changing the course of one family's life.

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Some 50 professional building contractors were on the scene to volunteer their services as "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" aims to transform a house that's home to Howard and Jessica Huber and their two children: Rosemary, age 3, and Henry, 6.

"We were shocked and surprised," said Howard "Howie" Huber, a Superior firefighter. "It was overwhelming to see all these builders and the people of our community rallying together to support us."

The Hubers bought an old farmhouse on Swamp Road about five years ago in hopes of fixing it up. But their dream soon soured.

"When I started the first major home project, it opened a Pandora's box of problems," Howie Huber said. "It pretty quickly became clear that it was going to be a losing battle."

But the Hubers have newfound optimism now that a cavalry of help has arrived.

Next week, the family will receive the keys to a new home, thanks to a volunteer effort scheduled to be broadcast in December on WDIO-TV Channels 10&13.

Local organizers have recruited hundreds of volunteers from the Duluth-Superior area to help Builders Commonwealth, a Duluth construction cooperative, build a new 2,300-square-foot home on the Hubers' land in narrow span of about 100 hours this week.

The family

Howie Huber began his firefighting career working with Cleveland Township Volunteer Fire Department. Bur four years ago, he was hired on by the Superior Fire Department.

"He's a quiet guy but a hard worker," said Superior Fire Chief Jim Rigstad of Huber. "He's taken on extra duties, and when he focuses on something, you know it's going to get done."

Huber was part of a team of firefighters to receive commendations in 2007 for their role in helping seven people escape from the second-floor windows of an apartment building fire that easily could have turned deadly.

Jessica, known as "Jessie" throughout the community, has been working this summer as a teacher's aide at Northwestern Elementary School in Maple.

She's also attending classes in hopes of becoming a nurse.

"She has a great rapport with families and staff," said Nicky Wilson, family services coordinator. "She cares about people and cares about families. Jessie also clearly cares about how families are supported in Douglas County."

"I feel we were all put on this earth to help each other out. That's the way I try to live my life," said Jessie.

The house

The Hubers' old farmhouse is in need of significant repairs.

"The septic system is blown, and there's sewage coming up in the back yard. Plus, the roof leaks everywhere," said Thad Whitesell, president of Builders Commonwealth.

Whitesell said the home's foundation is failing, and recently, its chimney collapsed. Other issues include inadequate insulation, a leaky fuel oil tank and faulty electrical wiring.

"They pulled the electrical box, and some of the lumber behind it was charred," said Whitesell.

Huber said he's well aware of the fire risks associated with substandard wiring and has lived in constant fear of endangering his family because he lacked the financial wherewithal to bring their home up to snuff.

Show producers said five Northland families were in the running to be selected. They have not revealed the identities of any other candidate families but said those not picked will be thrown back into the hat for future consideration.

What's next

During the reconstruction of their home, the Huber family will be sent to the Disney Vacation club in Hawaii.

Most of Monday was dedicated to production and footage of the Huber's packing in preparation to their trip to the Pacific. However some physical work commenced. Billy Shelton of Shelton Excavating said his firm and Superior Construction planned to begin digging the foundation for a new home behind the existing structure, which will be razed. That work was slated to begin at 6 p.m. and continue until midnight.

Shelton said he felt honored and humbled to offer his services.

"We're certainly out to change this family's life for the better, but I think it will change all of our lives, too," he said.

Demolition of the old home will begin today.

The construction site at 5742 S. Swamp Road will be opened to spectators on Wednesday, and by Monday of next week, the Hubers' new home should be ready for their return.

Louise Ernewein contributed to this story.

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