When Andrew and Megan Walker turned into the Donegal development in Maple Grove last Wednesday, they expected to see an empty dirt lot.

Instead, 200 cheering people lined the streets to deliver a surprise: The couple would be receiving a new mortgage-free home.

Andrew Walker is a veteran, and after a ceremony to thank him for his service, builders broke ground as part of Operation Finally Home, an organization that, together with the Pulte Group homebuilding company, provides mortgage-free homes for veterans.

The Walkers are the first Minnesota family to receive a home through the program. Operation Finally Home and the Pulte Group rallied trade partners, suppliers and contractors who are donating goods and labor to build the home for the family. The Pulte Group launched its own program, Built to Honor, in 2013 in partnership with Operation Finally Home, said Graham Epperson, a division president with the company.

Staff Sgt. Walker had served in the Minnesota Air National Guard since 2006. He was an ordnance disposal technician and was involved in operations to remove more than 3,500 pounds of explosives from the battlefield in Afghanistan. In 2012 an IED explosion caused Walker a traumatic brain injury, and he was awarded The Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service.

“I can tell you that we are dealing with a very special veteran here,” Epperson said.

The Walkers had applied for a house through the program. Last Wednesday, they were scheduled to meet with Molly Halliday, vice president of marketing for Operation Finally Home, and a builder from the Pulte Group, the subdivision’s developer.

Then Halliday told the couple that the meeting had been canceled and instead took them directly to the site and the waiting surprise. None of the couple’s friends or family knew about it.

The Walkers, who currently live in a one-bedroom apartment, will move into a four-bedroom, nearly 5,000-square-foot home once it’s completed, probably by the end of June, Epperson said.

They were overwhelmed by the news.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Andrew Walker said. “This changes everything.”

David Deebach, land acquisition manager with the homebuilding group, was a part of the steering committee who chose the Walkers to receive the home. Deebach said Walker’s community involvement and military service record make him an ideal choice.

“We hope that this home will make your life a little bit better,” Epperson said during the ceremony. “We already know that the two of you will make this community better.”

 

Taylor Nachtigal is a University of Minnesota student working on assignment for the Star Tribune.