By TIFFANY RONEY
After more than 100 people lost their homes to the Chapman tornado in 2008, Larry and Judy Blixt did their part to rebuild the town. The Blixts started constructing the third unit of their housing division, Irish Acres, shortly after the tornado hit on June 11, 2008. More than 150 people live in the 60 homes that comprise Irish Acres.
Philip Weishaar, mayor of Chapman, said the city and community have done an excellent job returning order to the area.
“We’ve recovered about as well as anybody in a short amount of time,” Weishaar said. “I’m very proud of the community and the way they responded.”
Many builders collaborated
Though the Blixts purchased the land and organized the building process, Judy said she and Larry cannot take all the credit for Irish Acres.
“All the people who live here have done so much work on their yards,” Judy said. “We’ve had a lot of good people here and a lot of good builders. The homeowners are the ones that continue that legacy, because if they don’t keep their yards up, their houses will go down. Some additions don’t look so good, but this one has come along really nicely. It has beautiful yards.”
The City of Chapman also played a role in the raising of Irish Acres. The city used bonds to cover 10 percent of the infrastructure of Irish Acres’ streets and sewers and the installed the water pipes. The city also worked with the Blixts to annex the property they chose, as it was not city property at the time.
“There weren’t a lot of places for new homes because there weren’t a lot of vacant lots,” Judy said. “They were good about getting things done right away for us.”
Judy said some of the builders have gone above and
beyond as well. For example Jeff Beemer, a contractor for Irish Acres and also a homeowner within the division, contributed by helping other homeowners lay sod in their yards.
In addition to larger area building companies, many subcontractors freelanced their work to help get Irish Acres off the ground.
“I think everybody’s been really happy about it, and I feel like we’ve gotten a lot of support,” Judy said. “The people that live here have been so friendly, and it’s brought a lot of people into the area.”
Bicycles and coffee
Jeff and Becky Blixt, Chapman residents, lost their house in the tornado. The couple now lives at Irish Acres.
“We were definitely uprooted for awhile, but honestly, just staying here in town, with the support of the community and our family and everything, it went really smoothly, and we just feel like this is home,” Becky said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to believe we ever lived anyplace else. I think just because we were here every day as we were building it, and everybody here is just so welcoming and friendly. It’s just a big home up here, a big community. It was tough at first, but with the transition, it’s almost like we forgot about all the bad times. It’s like we’ve been here forever.”
Judy added the comment: “There was one thing: you didn’t have a street for a while.”
Becky said Judy’s comment was true.
“The funny thing is sometimes I do forget that,” Becky said. “We had no street and no driveway for a while.”
Jeff joined the reminiscing about the street-less days.
“That’s kind of the unconventional way to build a house,” he said.
As a teacher at Chapman Elementary School, Becky said she likes that she can walk to school when the weather is nice and she does not have too many items to bring. The school is right next to the housing division. She said she also appreciates the family-oriented nature of Irish Acres.
“At one time, down on Leprechaun (a street in the division), they would take their cups of coffee and the kids were all out on the street playing every night, riding their little bicycles and their little battery-operated vehicles,” Judy said. “They’d be out there all the time in the evening.”
Becky said she had seen the bicycle-and-coffee phenomenon.
“That is what it’s like,” Becky said. “The parents come sit in the driveways and the kids just play all out in each other’s yards, in the street. It’s very family-friendly and fun.”
Larry and Judy not only know about building houses. They also know a thing or two about buying them for themselves.
“We’re in our eighth house and we’ve never left Chapman,” Judy said.
Judy said she and Larry continually move from or alter the house in which they live. After selling the last house they lived in, Judy said she was not sure what to do for their next living arrangement.
“Larry said, ‘Well, we could build, Judy,’ and I said, ‘Well, okay,’” Judy said. “I went through our finances. I said, ‘Yeah, we can, but we’ve got to be careful.’”
In this case, Larry and Judy did not build their own house. They left that job to amateurs.
“The school tried to sell the house they built at sealed bid and nobody bid on it, so then they had an auction,” Judy said. “We went and looked at it and I said, ‘I think we can make this work for us,’ so we just bought it.”
Judy said this was the second time she and Larry bought a construction tech house from Chapman High School.
“We had bought one of their houses before and put it down here, so we kind of knew what we needed to do,” Judy said. “We knew what we were up against, so it wasn’t a surprise to us.”
Judy said she and Larry moved the house to their property, which is south of Chapman. They added a screened-in porch to the back of the house, and their next project is to build a second porch onto the front.
Irish Acres came from humble beginnings. Larry was working as a farmer when he scouted the land that would later become the housing division.
“We would always clean the old cattle lot out and he’d say, ‘This would be a great place to live,’” Judy said.
Larry was not the first person to consider the land as a potential spot for housing.
“There were some people who actually started to get it planned, but then they decided it was more than they could do,” Judy said. “So then, when Larry found out about it, he wanted to buy.”
Judy said Larry does not sit in the office. Rather, enjoys doing the dirt work.
“It’s just the kind of thing he likes,” Judy said. “He runs the machines himself. He just enjoys it. He always has. He loves running his machinery. That’s his life.”
In addition to his farming work, Larry had built roads for other subdivisions in the past. Thus, Judy said the work of starting Irish Acres fit right in with his experience and skills. Judy’s role is bookkeeping.
The couple contributed to the Chapman economy through several entrepreneurial ventures, including Blixt Construction and Blixt Landfill, both of which the couple has sold.
“So, this is our last thing,” Judy said. “This is our baby.”
Judy said Irish Acres has been privy to the talents of seven builders, but there is one builder who holds a special place in Judy and Larry’s hearts. That builder was Allen Nickelson.
Nickelson got cancer partway through building houses for the division. He built seven houses before entering chemotherapy treatment. When the cancer seemed to be in remission, he returned to build two more houses. During the building of those houses, the cancer returned worse than before. Nickelson died in 2009.
“He was just such a neat guy,” Judy said. “Larry and I have said we would give him our checkbook and say, ‘Build me a house.’ We wouldn’t worry about it. We’d know we’d get a house.”
Judy said Nickelson often gave customers “something extra,” such as an additional closet or anything they wanted that was not originally included in the building plans.
Judy said she and Larry own one of Nickelson’s houses. After he died, one of his houses came on the market. Judy said she knew she would not have the opportunity to request him to build her a new house, so she told Larry she wanted to buy the house. Currently, she and Larry are renting the house to a military family.
“We have a great housing option for the military people looking to live in a small town community,” Weishaar said, referring to Irish Acres.
In addition to receiving families who were displaced by the tornado, Irish Acres is receiving families from places as varied as Ft. Riley and the Middle Atlantic.
“It was just exciting to do something like this and to have new people come in from different places,” Judy said. “We’ve had a retired couple from Maryland move here because her daughter lived here. That was kind of neat to provide homes for people or lots for people to build homes on. It was really exciting when we first started it. We always like a challenge.”
Irish Acres residents are varied not only in origins but also in their careers and professions.
“We have a variety of people that move here. We have schoolteachers. We have professional people. We have retired people. We have some self-employed people. We have military,” Judy said. “If the military would pull out, we’re not going to be vacant because we have a really good mix of people.”
Weishaar said Irish Acres has increased the city’s assessed evaluation.
“It has provided an excellent place to develop very nice housing for families,” Weishaar said. “It has attracted many people from out of town to come live here. It’s a very good, very positive thing for the city.”
At the completion of each lot’s construction, Judy registers each house and the builder’s name with the Chapman Historical Society.
“I wanted to do that because it’s significant later on,” Judy said. “We lost so many of our houses during the tornado. They had pictures of about everything, which is good because you kind of forget. You really do. You get used to it, and you forget what used to be there.”
Irish Acres is above the flood plain on the north side of Chapman. The housing addition includes 58 single-family houses and two townhomes. There are currently 12 open lots for construction. For more information, contact www.irishacreschapman.com.