Texana Hollis, a 101-year-old woman who was evicted from her Detroit home visits her home for the first time since it was bought and rehabilitated. She is shown the home by Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Album, whose nonprofit S.A.Y. rescued the home.(Photo: Regina H. Boone, Detroit Free Press)
DETROIT - Texana Hollis was 101 when she was evicted from her house on Carbondale Street.
Her story tugged on heartstrings and made headlines. People rallied around her, fighting to get her back home and spending hours painting walls, replacing carpeting and putting in new windows and appliances.
"It meant a lot to her to have the community surround her and support her and love her," said Hollis' granddaughter Deborah Hollis-Coburn of Tracy, Calif. "She never expected anything from anybody. She was very, very grateful."
Hollis, 103, died New Year's Eve. Her health began to deteriorate earlier in the month, and she entered hospice care on Christmas Eve. She died at the home of her longtime friend and caretaker, Pollian Cheeks.
Hollis was born in Alabama and moved to Michigan with her husband, Ira, in the 1930s. She spent her whole life as a homemaker.
Friends and relatives remembered Hollis as a deeply spiritual woman. She was a longtime member of St. Philip's Lutheran Church in Detroit, where she taught Sunday school to generations of youngsters.
"As a grandchild, that's really what I remember about her is being a teacher of everything, whether it was learning things in the Bible to learning to crochet to learning how to make homemade bread," Hollis-Coburn said.
Hollis attributed her longevity to her strong belief in God - and her smooth skin to daily applications of Vaseline. She didn't watch her diet and was skilled enough with crochet needles to make pretty place mats out of plastic bread bags.
Hollis raised her three sons and foster children in the modest, two-story house where she lived for about 60 years. She had 11 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson, according to Hollis-Coburn.
An unexpected battle to save her home thrust her into the public spotlight.
After one of her sons had failed to pay taxes on it, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on it in fall 2011. Hollis was left outside in a wheelchair, her belongings thrown into a trash container in the street.
Hollis' story gained widespread news media attention. HUD officials reversed their decision and said she could go back home, but then declared the run-down structure unsafe.
With the intervention of Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, HUD agreed to sell the severely distressed property to his charity S.A.Y. Detroit after he promised that the organization would rehabilitate the home.
Albom bought the home from HUD for $100. S.A.Y. Detroit spent nearly $30,000 on supplies and construction equipment rental and furnishings.
Volunteers built a new wheelchair ramp outside and made several other improvements. The refurbished house was unveiled to Hollis in April 2012.
"It's so wonderful to be home again," she said, touring the home in her wheelchair. "The house looks so beautiful, and I thank the Lord. God is good."
Hollis never moved back home. It was better for her to live with someone who could provide round-the-clock care, Hollis-Coburn said. So since around the time of her eviction, she lived with Cheeks.
Her friends and relatives often took her to visit her beloved home. After their children, she viewed it as the greatest gift her husband, who died in the 1990s, had ever given her.
"Texana was a wonderful woman who inspired everyone she met," Albom said. "Every time we spoke, she thanked us profusely for getting her house back. She spent as much time there as she could, alternating between there and the home of her caretaker, who was very good to her for the last few years.
"She was a woman of great faith and a blessing to us all."