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Local family gets wheelchair-accessible home

Jim Farr, executive director of St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity, hands the house keys to Rob Ramacher, new owner of the single-level, four-bedroom house on Rich River Way in New Richmond. Ramacher, along with his wife, Deb, and younger children Maya, 16, and Michael, 14, will move into the wheelchair-accessible house this week.

There was a party at Ron and Deb Ramacher's Sunday, Jan. 23. People were wearing Green Bay Packer jerseys and some even brought food to share.

But there wasn't a TV or radio in sight.

They weren't there to cheer on the Packers while they advanced to the Super Bowl. No, they were there for an even more emotional celebration: to cheer the Ramachers on while they received the key to their first home -- courtesy of Habitat for Humanity, Thrivent Builds and literally hundreds of volunteers.

Approximately 25 people stood in the newly-constructed 1,400-square-foot, four-bedroom home on Rich River Way in New Richmond that afternoon.

The house is designed specifically for the Ramacher's situation. Their two younger children, Maya, 16, and Michael, 14, have cerebral palsy and are confined to wheelchairs. The home is one level, has pocket doors, low thresholds and even a roll-in bathroom shower stall.

"We'll get them rolling shower chairs," commented Deb Ramacher, their mother. "That will be much easier than lifting them over the bathtub like we do now."

The Ramacher's also have another daughter, Chelsea, 20. She recently became engaged and will be moving in with her fiance instead of living on Rich River Way.

Ron and Deb have been married for 22 years; she works two part-time jobs while attending school full-time. He recently started working for the Habitat ReStore in New Richmond after being laid off for almost two years. In that time, they had been renting while nursing a dream of someday owning their own home.

"Our mothers really wanted us to have our own place," said Deb in an emotional speech. "Ron's mom passed away two years ago and we lost my mom one year ago today."

The Ramachers' dream began to take shape when they were accepted by the St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity program for a new house. The program -- a local, non-profit Christian housing ministry in St. Croix and Pierce counties -- helps people in need acquire their own home. In the case of the Ramachers, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans was a significant partner.

Jerry Breen, chapter president of Thrivent Financial, addressed the audience at the dedication ceremony.

"Thrivent Builds donated $77,155 to this home, the local chapter raised $5,000 and Habitat (for Humanity) picked up the balance.

"We are truly proud to be partners with this organization," concluded Breen.

Jim Farr, executive director for St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity, said that since he assumed the post in August 2010, the Ramacher house has been the only project he's seen from start to finish.

"This is literally the last house of the season, and it's particularly special for me," he said.

Ron Ramacher read a prepared thank you to the crowd before Debbie Murtha, St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity office manager, offered the family a candle as a symbol of "love, knowledge and cheer."

It also sported a Green Bay Packer decoration, just for the occasion.

Carol Merriman, president of the St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity board, led the crowd in a prayer for happiness in the family's new home.

"It has been so cool working with you and your family since the groundbreaking that rainy day (five months ago)," she said. "It's been sunshine ever since."

Farr then presented the family with a Bible and the key to the house. The family closes on the home Tuesday, Jan. 25, and plan to move in that afternoon.

As part of the program, the family is responsible for putting a certain amount of sweat equity hours into the construction. Deb said that Ron put in hundreds of hours, along with many other volunteers.

One of the volunteers was Al Lewerer, owner of Mr. Rooter Plumbing in New Richmond. He donated his time and materials when he heard about the project through Thrivent.

"This is our first time working with Habitat for Humanity," said Lewerer. "We've helped with the Ronald McDonald House before, but what better way to get involved locally than to help out with a project like this?"

Another person who worked extensively on the Ramacher house was Joel Palmquist, construction supervisor for St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity.

He said the design for the house allows for protection without needing a basement.

The outside walls are insulated concrete forms, which means they have six inches of concrete and several inches of foam.

"This is the first time we've used these all the way up the roof line," he said. "This will withstand severe weather since they have no basement but an added benefit is that the house is very well insulated."

For their part, Deb said they could not wait to move in. Both Maya's and Michael's rooms are painted a bright blue and she was eagerly describing how they were going to decorate the walls.

"Maya loves VeggieTales so we'll put some pictures up for her and stencil some drawings on the wall," she explained.

One room over, she walked over to the window that faces the train tracks.

"Michael loves trains, so we'll stencil some around his room. But he will really like being able to look out his window and see the actual trains going by.

"Yeah," she smiled, "he's going to love that."