STRUM — “Just overwhelming.”
It’s a phrase that came up over and over Thursday as Strum veteran Steve Wojcik and his wife, Terri, talked about the complete renovation their home received as part of the Lifetime reality TV show “Military Makeover.”
During Thursday’s “Big Reveal,” the climax of the show, the Wojciks and their daughters Alyca, Amberlee and Alyson got their first look at the work completed over the previous 10 days while they stayed in Crystal Lake Campground in Strum.
After arriving via law enforcement escort at their familiar address at 136 W. Fir St., the family was greeted by cheers from hundreds of friends, relatives, neighbors and veterans as they walked to the front door of their no longer familiar house, with the entire front yard outlined by miniature American flags.
They were not disappointed. Indeed, they were awed by the transformation, as evidenced by their gaping mouths as they got their first peek inside.
“Our home is amazing. It’s beyond my wildest expectations,” said Steve, 43, who was wounded by a roadside bomb in the Iraq War. “Walking through that front door, it just blew me away. I can’t thank everybody enough.”
In particular, he mentioned the renovation that turned their small, closed-in kitchen and living room into an open concept design. “It’s so welcoming,” he marveled.
Likewise, Terri was amazed at all the changes in the house — from the new appliances, cabinets and flooring in the kitchen to the new furniture and smart-home computerized features spread throughout the structure. Much of the furniture was donated by Arcadia-based Ashley Furniture, although a sofa table and a few other items were made by students in Eleva-Strum High School’s Cardinal Manufacturing program.
“It’s just overwhelming,” she said between congratulatory hugs with friends, family and crew members.
Of course, all of the emotion and drama was captured by Lifetime’s camera and sound crews, including an impromptu “Aaww” from onlookers as the family and cast members, including longtime talk show host Montel Williams, shared a group hug on the back deck after emerging from a tour of the house.
Williams called the Wojciks an “extremely deserving family” and said he was impressed at the community support for the family and the makeover project.
Designer Jennifer Bertrand said she was thrilled to see what she called “the best reaction ever” when the family got to see the fruits of her labor.
The open concept seemed important, she said, because “they’re a family that loves to be around each other.”
“The kitchen went from the 1950s to 2019,” Bertrand said, and the remodeled basement now includes a Green Bay Packers-themed cafe and bar area complete with a helmet, cheesehead and life-size wall decoration of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The basement previously had shag carpet on the walls and artificial grass on the floor.
“I have to say I’ve never designed around a bear rug before,” she quipped, pointing to a memento on the living room wall from a successful hunting trip Steve once took to Canada.
Once the cast members departed, the family experimented with their new smart-home features, telling a Google device to dim the lights, adjust the room temperature and show them video of the driveway.
Amberlee, the Wojcik’s 16-year-old daughter, said she was excited to see the looks on her parents’ faces when they saw all of the changes to their home.
“I was just blown away at how everything came together in such a short time,” Amberlee said.
Steve, a Wisconsin State Patrol officer who was wounded by a roadside bomb in 2004 during a deployment to Iraq with the Army Reserve and still deals with chronic back pain, was awarded the Purple Heart in 2012. He was nominated for “Military Makeover” by a fellow State Patrol officer.
The six episodes featuring the Wojciks are expected to air on Lifetime in November and December, with the first scheduled at 6:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8.
A group of uniformed State Patrol officers watched proudly as their colleague Steve expressed his gratitude for all of the work done on his behalf.
Several of them volunteered at the site Monday to help with staining the deck, painting the garage, landscaping and other jobs, said Lt. Craig Larson.
They were among dozens of regional residents, veterans and remodeling professionals who volunteered to make the project happen.
Construction manager Ryan Stanley said the project was able to include so many features, including a last-minute decision to take out a wall, because of the abundance of volunteers.
“I was only able to do all of that because of all the electricians, plumbers and carpenters who were willing to help,” Stanley said.
Strum VFW Post 6550 commander Steve Ebert, Menomonie VFW Post 1039 commander Bill Foslid and Strum resident Tom Wagener were among the dozens of volunteers who worked long days to help the renovation — and the show — reach a happy ending.
“I volunteered for three days and ended up working three more because it was so much fun,” Foslid said.
Hearing about all of the volunteering by people he knew and total strangers was particularly touching for Steve, who revealed that crew members told him finding volunteers is sometimes much more challenging even in big cities.
“People just came forward and said ‘what can we do?’ The crew said they’ve never had that before,” Steve said. “It’s a testament to the kind of community we have.”