KEYTESVILLE — Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Brandon Brown arrived back in mid-Missouri after a year of deployment thinking his homecoming would be a surprise. His family, however, had known of his return for months, and they had a bigger surprise waiting at his front door.
Brown pulled up to his single-story home on Cleveland Avenue on Saturday expecting to find it in the same condition as before: chipped paint on the facade, a few boards falling from the siding, an unfinished back porch and rooms full of hand-me-down furniture. Instead, Brown and his cousin, who was giving him a ride from the airport, found community and family members eagerly gathered in front of his crisp, newly-painted yellow house.
“When we turned the corner and we’re going down the street and I saw everybody standing outside the house, I looked at (my cousin) and go, ‘Really?’” Brown said.
On May 4, 2017, six days into training for a year’s deployment to Kuwait, Brown received a phone call from his mom. A spring storm had rolled through their small town of 400 people, and the runoff from the intense rain had flooded the house he planned to live in with his two children, Zachary and Brianna, once he returned. Brown remembered the date well — it was his birthday.
Brown’s bedroom, military supplies and boxes of childhood belongings he planned to pass down to his children had been in the basement when the water began to rush in. He asked his friend and neighbor Nathan Asbury to begin repairing the flooded basement while Brown was stationed in the Middle East.
“I only asked him to do the basement so I didn’t have to worry about the mold and I didn’t have to worry about the paneling, and I was going to pay him later,” Brown said. “I just wanted it out of there and in the cheapest way possible.”
Asbury has worked alongside Brown in the service-oriented Keytesville Lions Club, a group that raises money to support local families in need. With the motto “We Serve,” Lions Club helps the community by hosting fish fries, funding scholarships and paying for children’s eye exams, among other things.
“We try to give whatever we can to help other people,” Brown said. “Being a single parent with two kids is kind of hard. I’m more than glad I can go help people work on things.”
As a member of Lions Club, Asbury didn’t hesitate to help Brown.
“I thought it would be a great deal if we could honor him by redoing his entire house since he’s gone and missing an entire year’s worth of his kids’ birthdays and school activities,” Asbury said. “The Lions Club guys said, ‘By all means — let’s get this going.’”
Asbury and other Lions Club members stripped the home to its bare bones and began rebuilding with materials donated by local businesses, including cabinets, flooring, paint and appliances. The dark chocolate kitchen cabinets paired well with the black marble countertops, sanded wooden floors and new furniture as if by fate, Asbury said.
As Brown approached his remodeled home on Saturday, surrounded by friends and family, he said Asbury handed him the keys with tears in his eyes. Brown opened the front door and entered his home, which smelled of fresh new paint, and realized they had remodeled the entire house.
“I was surprised to see the house, but I was also surprised to see the family and the community that was here to take time out of their schedules to come here and be here when I arrived,” Brown said. “That was a shock.”
By the time the project finished, Asbury said he and Ron Severns, who works for Asbury’s construction company NMA Construction, had spent a combined 1,800 hours remodeling the home in their spare time. Asbury predicts that without donations, the project would have cost between $80,000 to $100,000, but they spent only a small amount of money.
“We’re a close-knit community, and being small makes us all like a family,” Asbury said. “Of course someone is going to argue with somebody else, but as far as it comes to community things, especially on a project like this, everybody comes together.”