For nearly two years, Luke Coons has been driving back and forth between work in Schoharie and a relative’s home in East Greenbush.
Those trips are now over, and Coons, his girlfriend Jamie McFarland and their seven children will be moving back to the village permanently.
Roughly 30 volunteers, neighbors and members of the flood recovery organizations SALT and Schoharie Recovery gathered Thursday at the family’s house on Fair Street for a blessing and welcoming ceremony that followed nearly two years of dedicated hard work.
“It almost felt like you were homeless for more than a year,” Coons said.
The house was Coons’ boyhood home, and after Tropical Storm Irene, his parents turned what was left of it over to him.
The house’s foundation was caved in on one side from the pressure of floodwater from the Schoharie Creek, the banks of which are several hundred feet away under normal circumstances. It needed a complete gutting, including new wiring on the second floor because water seeped up the old wiring’s insulation.
Coons described a long road to recovery that entailed working at the house when he wasn’t working as a cook at Little Italy Pizza and Pasta in the village, sanding down the floors or helping his friend Don Buck of Saratoga, who took on the difficult task of rebuilding the home’s foundation.
Coons said one of his cousins helped with replacing ceramic tile, another did some electrical rewiring, and volunteers from Brethren Disaster Ministries, SALT and Schoharie Recovery took care of the rest — right down to building new walls, painting, and finding appliances like a clothes washer, a dishwasher, ceiling fans and cabinets.
For Coons, living in Rensselaer County was summed up by all the traffic on the road near where his children played — a situation that will end once the family is completely moved back in.
“This is a great spot to raise kids,” he said.
Josh DeBartolo, a director at Schoharie Recovery, said completion of Coons’ house leaves three left to do on Fair Street.
“This is an excellent day as we move one more family back in,” he said.
SALT director Sarah Goodrich said she remembers the worried looks on people’s faces in the early days after the flood. Now they’re smiles, she said.
“This is what recovery is all about,” she said. And the recovery, she said, is due in great part to the Schoharie community’s determination to rebuild, as well as the hope they’ve maintained since the disaster.
“Without that hope, we wouldn’t be doing any of this,” Goodrich said.
Teams of as many as 15 volunteers from the Church of the Brethren Disaster Ministries worked on the house, mostly retired contractors but also some who aren’t retired. Project manager Thom Deily of Claysburg, Pa., said some volunteers still in the workforce spent their week’s vacation working on the project.
“It’s very heartwarming when you move people into their home. There’s nothing like doing this, nothing,” he said.
SALT, which took on the challenge of rebuilding the Schoharie Valley after Irene, will be observing the second anniversary of the disaster at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Lassell Hall at 268 Main St., Schoharie.