World War II veteran Johnnie Hodges found himself in debt when his wife Flora became ill with Alzheimer’s and died. While attending to his wife, his debt continued to grow with all of the medical bills involved. When she passed away, he had too much to repay and the additional suffering of Flora’s loss.With more than $100,000 that he owed to the bank that he was unable to pay, Johnnie was evicted from the home he lived in for more than 60 years.
He told The Buffalo News: “I worked a lifetime for this house, and I’d like to be here until I leave this world,” adding, “I fell behind on the mortgage when my wife was sick. She had Alzheimer’s disease.”
He took out a second mortgage on the home in 1996, which he explains was “to do repairs to the front porch and inside the house.” He was able to make the monthly payments for some time, but it became harder. He explained, “I’d taken a lump sum when Bethlehem Steel closed, and I started working as a part-time school bus driver. I’d work extra hours driving a bus and that helped with the bills. But when I was 85, they told me I couldn’t drive anymore because of my health. When my wife got sick, I had to spend money on medicines that the insurance didn’t cover. I was also ill for awhile.”
Johnnie never told his children that he was in such debt, as his son told The Washington Post: “My dad is the type of guy who doesn’t really say a lot. Everything is good; even if it’s not good, he won’t tell you.”
Since he refused to leave voluntarily, police and ambulance crews removed Johnnie on a stretcher, which some of his neighbors witnessed. They pulled together to help, with the assistance of local businessman Greg Elwood, who coordinated the efforts with a GoFundMe campaign.
The community’s outpouring of support raised more than $110,000 in less than 24 hours.
Johnnie was able to buy his house back, with additional help from Congressman Brian Higgins and HUD. The money will help with making additional home repairs as well.
His community held a big welcome home party for Johnnie, complete with a ribbon cutting. His daughter spoke at the event, saying, “I am so grateful and so honored to all the thousands of people that had a heart enough to think about my dad.”
Johnnie said of his return: “There’s no place like home.” He added, “I am so grateful that I am back to stay. And I will never leave again!”
As for Johnnie’s outlook on the eviction, he said, “No I didn’t worry because I know God takes care of everything.