PHILO – It was the worst-kept secret in this small town.
Rumors had been circulating for at least a week that Nathan and Jenny Montgomery and their two boys and two girls had been chosen for ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the TV show that depicts a family getting a brand-new home built for them within a week, while they are on vacation.
But Dan Montgomery, Nathan's father, who knew the family was a finalist and who also had heard the rumors, did not want to get too excited.
"I worked until they finally, officially released their names," just before 10 a.m. Tuesday, he said. "The morning was just overwhelming."
A chef for 23 years at Hendrick House in Urbana, Mongtomery said that once the news was official, coworkers started cheering and stood in line to give him hugs.
Then it was off to Philo.
He and hundreds of others – family members, friends, neighbors and fans of the TV show – lined Monroe Street and filled Hale Park and watched Illinois 130 in hopes of seeing the bus in which host Ty Pennington and the family would be. The crowd photographed trucks hauling construction equipment to the site, sent text messages about the location and activity, and were shooed off by security personnel when they came too close to the Montgomery house at 407 N. Harrison St.
Show staff surprised the Montgomery family at Salt & Light Ministries in Champaign earlier in the morning, and toured the charity on Anthony Drive in Champaign before heading to Philo to visit the home. Nathan Montgomery is executive director of the nonprofit. His wife, Jenny, is a teacher's aide.
After the family arrived back in Philo, the crowd watched as the crew filmed the family and Pennington walking off the bus and into the house, which is partially hidden behind trees.
The home, about 100 years old, needs more than a little work, according to family members. During a previous filming in the house, a snake reportedly slithered out of a vent, Dan Montgomery said. Squirrels have been known to chew on wires.
The Montgomerys have tried to repair the home throughout the years, but "it's been one thing after another" and the projects became overwhelming, said Brandy Montgomery, sister-in-law of Nathan.
"It's definitely a blessing," she said. "He's got the biggest heart. (Nathan) would never ask for anything."
"The house is very poor. It's ready to fall," said his mother-in-law, Pat Munds of St. Joseph. "They don't have very good windows. They can't keep it heated real well in the winter. In the summer, no air conditioner. It's going to help them tremendously."
"Nathan is a man who is dedicated to saving those less fortunate," said Lyn Jones, executive director of the United Way of Champaign County. As part of the show's application process, she was filmed talking about the Montgomerys. She said, "If you choose this family, you're saying there is great honor in what they do."
"Everybody gets paid at Salt & Light before Nathan, everybody on the payroll. Nathan is last," Munds said. "There's been times that he's went a long time without an income and they just tighten their belt."
The message of Salt & Light is "if you need help, they're there to help." It sounds simple, Jones said. But that is what they do: distribute food, clothes and household items to the needy.
Earlier this spring, Jones and Lynn Peisker, who knows Montgomery through church and as a volunteer coordinator with the United Way, got an e-mail from the show asking for nominations. The season's theme is heroes of the community.
"Nathan and Jenny really fit that bill," Peisker said. "They are both extremely talented and gifted individuals. They chose to work in a nonprofit that provides for people in poverty. Nathan's there all the time and he works very hard to make sure that people in our community who are in need get what they need to make their lives more livable."
On Tuesday evening, the family was shuttled away in a white limousine, and for the next week, they will be at Walt Disney World.
Demolition is expected to begin around 1 p.m. Thursday, and the new house will be revealed to the family on Aug. 25.
Officers from the Champaign County Sheriff's Office blocked off streets around the house. They'll be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Capt. Tim Voges. The show will reimburse the office for the officers' time, he said.
Throughout most of today, the crew will continue preparing the site for construction.
A typical 2,200-square-foot home takes about 100 days to build. This will be built in about 110 hours, said Bill Brady of Brady Homes, the Bloomington-based firm chosen to build it.
"We're ready to get rolling here," said Jim Hayes, director of construction for Brady Homes.
In addition to the Brady crew of about 30 workers, there will be many subcontractors, such as 70 framers, 60 painters and 50 electricians, Hayes said. They'll be working on the site 24 hours a day. If it rains, they'll work through it.
Brady described the home as Prairie-style. It will be a two-story home with a two-car garage. It will be about 2,800 square feet and have environmentally friendly features such as geothermal heat pumps.
"I think the family will think it's spectacular," Brady said.
The crew is also planning to remodel the interior of Salt & Light.
"Every day (the Montgomerys) take care of the people in our county, and we're thrilled somebody is taking care of them," Peisker said.
As for Dan Montgomery, he plans to be at the site all week long. Hendrick House is catering the build.
So far, about 3,000 volunteers have signed up to help. The Web site, www.extremebradyhomes.com, is no longer accepting volunteer sign-ups, said volunteer coordinator Bob Mathes. However, if you want to be on a waiting list, you can sign up at the pavilion in Hale Park, he said. Food drives and blood drives are also being organized during the week.
Lisa Sparrow of WAND-TV contributed to this report.
Want to help?
— Over 3,000 people have already volunteered to help on the build. The Web site no longer allows sign-ups. A waiting list has been started at the pavilion in Hale Park. To sign up, go there in person. Organizers will then call you if they need you.
— Food donations for Salt & Light can be dropped off at the local offices of State Farm Insurance and Country Financial.
— Several blood drives will be held. From noon to 6 p.m. on Friday, the Red Cross will have a bus next to the site. You can also donate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Unity East Elementary School, 1638 County Road 1000 North, Philo, or from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday near the site.
— You can donate money to the family via PayPal on the build Web site, www.extremebradyhomes.com. Money raised will go toward their old mortgage.
Materials delivered to site. Utilities disconnected.
Demolition expected about 1 p.m.
About 1 a.m., foundation poured. Framing, walls put in place.
Siding, insulation, drywall installed.
Plumbing, heating and air conditioning and electrical work. Appliances installed.
More drywall, paint. Furniture moved in.
Final house revealed to family.