Pekin family gets 'Extreme' wake-up call

Shannon Tebben-Sandoval

“Good Morning Grys Family!”

It was the shout-out they’ve been hoping for.

Television host Ty Pennington from the ABC show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” yelled those words through a megaphone as he knocked on the door of Pekin residents Jeannie and Steve Grys Tuesday morning, ending the suspense and weeks of speculation over who in central Illinois was about to receive the home makeover surprise of a lifetime.

It may have been an extremely well-known secret, but until the cast and crew rolled down 14th Street in their trademark 48-foot luxury bus, the selection was, in fact, officially a secret – although a crowd of about 200 people gathered throughout the neighborhood in the early morning hours.

The effort to land the family a coveted spot on the show began more than 18 months ago, and to date more than 16,000 people have signed an online petition asking producers of the show to come to Pekin and build the Grys family a home that would accommodate their 8-year old son, Jacob.

Jacob was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, which is better known as the “brittle bone” disease. It was a therapist from Easter Seals who first encouraged the family to apply to the show, and helped them realize that with the proper modifications, they could create a home that would allow Jacob to live independently when he is older.

Producers from the show first announced they were coming to central Illinois just a little more than three weeks ago, and since then have also announced the lead builder -- Melanie Spurgeon of Peoria-based Design Built Homes Ltd. and solicited various volunteers and donations.

The Hollywood production will claim a heavy presence in Pekin for the next week, shutting down roads and bringing in thousands of workers and spectators.

The family home will be demolished and a new home built in its place – all in the span of about five days. Statues on the front steps of the home include an angel with the word “Hope,” and a cross with the word, “Believe.”

Known for their work with Special Olympics and for their long history as foster parents, the family’s story is one that resonates with the producers of the Emmy-award winning show.

Now in its sixth season, producers focus on finding real life heroes and say the Grys family was a natural choice.

When it airs, the episode featuring the Gryses and Pekin will be shown in 69 countries worldwide. According to information about the show posted on the ABC Web site, this season also will feature more “extreme homes, the latest in extreme technology, and families with more immediate need for a home than ever before. In addition, there will be “green” elements built into every episode with eco-friendly, low energy and recyclable sources being

incorporated into designs.”

The design team includes team leader Pennington (who gained fame as a carpenter on TLC’s “Trading Spaces”), with designers Paul DiMeo, Paige Hemmis, Michael Moloney, Ed Sanders, Tracy Hutson, Eduardo Xol, John Littlefield, Rib Hillis, and Didiayer Snyder.

As attention over the show’s visit to central Illinois grew, the Gryses became the subject of more and more speculation and water cooler talk and no doubt felt the glare of the public eye upon them. Now they’ll be sent off for a vacation.

While they’re gone, hundreds of volunteers who have never met them will work on their new house. Thousands more will come to watch as the filming takes place.

Unlike many Hollywood productions, the cast and crew of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition maintain an open set and welcome spectators.

Spectators are allowed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning Wednesday.

Before that the crew will be doing production work that does not involve anything visual for spectators.

Pekin Times

Production tidbits

--Approximately 80 cast and crew members

--30-40 production vehicles, including seven 45-foot trucks and trailers

--Bleachers and portable lights

--Three meals served daily for 300-plus volunteers

--Thousands of deliveries every day

--Thousands of spectators, especially for filming of “Move that Bus” scene