Singer Kenny Rogers invited the Kaluzas to meet him at his show here Tuesday.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — “Wow,” Joe Kaluza said as he wheeled through the front door of his new Ivanhoe Avenue home.
It was a word he repeated often as he and his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Tiffany, 13, took a tour Sunday of the 2,100-square-foot house that was “The Kaluza Project.” Son Josh, 22, was unable to make the tour.
It may have been cold and damp outside as they waited, but a warm sun was shining in the hearts of more than 100 members of the project team, supporters and well-wishers gathered outside the home for the 3 p.m. event.
Kaluza, former manager of KFC on the city’s South Side, was shot by a robber March 24, 2008, as he left the restaurant to make a bank deposit. The injury left him a quadriplegic.
The Kaluza Project, a fund-raising drive to build the family a new home designed to meet the needs of someone who must use a wheelchair, was started by Anna Fitzgerald, Kaluza’s sister, and Jim Phillips, a family friend.
It took just 70 days to build the house, said Don Murphy, who served as the emcee for Sunday’s key presentation. Murphy is one of the áore Six Plus One group of area businessmen who spearheaded the construction project.
The effort cost about $300,000.
“It’s absolutely amazing what this community has pulled together for this family,” Murphy said to the assembled crowd. Nearly 150 companies donated goods and services to the project, and many community residents donated as well.
“I call it a miracle on Ivanhoe. That’s what it is, a miracle on Ivanhoe,” Murphy said.
The members of Core Six Plus One are: Sam Pitzulo of Sam Pitzulo Homes, John Morvay of American Portfolio, Joe Reinthaler of Reinthaler’s Auto Village, Don Murphy of Donnell Ford, Tom Paranzino of Bernard Daniels Lumber, Jim Rauch of C&K Welding and Steve Bott of Mark Thomas Ford.
Before the Kaluzas entered the house, they were treated to a large-screen video showing the construction project from beginning to end. The video was done to a Kenny Rogers Christmas tune and ended with a surprise — a special message to the Kaluzas from Kenny Rogers himself, who, noting the Kaluzas are coming to his show Tuesday at the Covelli Centre, invited them to meet with him there.
“This truly was a special effort by the Mahoning Valley community,” Rogers said.
Lisa was reduced to tears by the invitation.
“Oh, my God — This is our home?” she asked as she followed Joe through the front door to see a Christmas tree set up in the living room, complete with a stack of presents.
“You don’t have to wait until Christmas to open the presents,” Murphy told her.
They also found Mayor Jay Williams inside waiting to hand them the keys to the house on behalf of the many contributors and volunteers who made the project happen.
“I can’t believe this is our house,” Lisa said.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” Joe said.
The interior is open and spacious, and doors are wide to accommodate wheelchairs. Lights come on automatically as the room is entered, and doors are voice-coded so that they will open by a voice command.
“I’m going to get lost in here,” Joe said as the tour continued. “This is amazing.”
Lisa also was presented with a scrapbook showing the home’s construction from beginning to end.
“Thank you, guys, thank you very much,” she said. “It is just beautiful. It is just gorgeous.”
She called it the best Christmas present one could hope for.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s amazing,” Joe said. “The only thing we can say is ‘thank you,’ but it’s not enough. It just isn’t enough.”
“I’ll be able to be a father to my daughter again,” he said, explaining that he’s missed being able to put her to bed and reading her stories at bedtime.
“It’s the only thing I want. This is the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m so grateful,” he said.
The Kaluzas will move into the house this week.