Governor Sends Her Thanks

April 22, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — David and Barbara Huyser bought a house on the southeast side of the city 34 years ago with the intention of eventually moving to the countryside.

But it’s a good thing they never followed through on their original plan because if they had, the Huysers wouldn’t be receiving the prestigious Historic Preservation Award that the governor will present to them next month.

“We are really excited,” said Barbara Huyser. “It kind of blindsided us, so that makes it even more fun.”

David and Barbara Huyser will be honored for the renovation work they’ve done over the years in the Fairmount Square Historic District and the Wealthy Street Historic District. To date, the Huysers have historically renovated eight homes and two commercial buildings, and have done so with little in the way of fanfare.

“They have been going one by one and sometimes doing two at a time and restoring these places back to what they were. The state historic preservation office nominated them for this award because of the consistently high quality of work that they’re doing,” said Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, who owns Past Perfect Inc. with Jennifer Metz, a firm that has helped the Huysers find tax credits for their renovation work.

A former blacksmith shop is one commercial building the Huysers have renovated. It’s located on the corner of Diamond and Virginia and is a building the city almost razed. The roof was about to come tumbling down when local preservationists got the then-owner to turn over the title for a tax deduction and sold the two-story building to the Huysers for a dollar.

“Then the Heritage Hill Foundation gave them a loan to stabilize the building to the point where they could get a mortgage. Then two people on the block paid the back taxes — so it really was a community effort,” said Smith-Hoffman, a leader in the local preservation movement.

“Now the building has commercial space downstairs and two apartments upstairs. It’s gorgeous. Without the Huysers, we would have had a vacant lot. We now have a tax-paying property.”

The other commercial building the Huysers renovated is at 1127 Wealthy St. SE. It has two ground-floor storefronts and four apartments on the upper level. The building was the first to get a façade grant from the South East Economic Development (SEED) group.

“They decided to be the guinea pigs,” said Smith-Hoffman of the Huysers. “And because they couldn’t rent the first floor then, they donated one of the storefronts to SEED for its use.”

As for the homes they’ve restored, Smith-Hoffman said the Huysers don’t charge renters “top dollar.” It’s their way of keeping their apartments affordable for almost everyone.

“I think people like Dave and Barbara are actually motivated for the good of the community and that’s why they do it,” she said.

By the way, renovation work isn’t the Huysers’ day job. David teaches in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, while Barbara tutors at Grand Rapids Christian High School. Yet they renovate their structures completely, inside and out, just like full-time commercial firms.

“We’re on the street a lot and we have a presence in the neighborhood because we’ve lived here for about 34 years,” said Barbara.

“We heard that state money was available (for historic renovation) and we said, ‘Why not?’”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm started handing out the annual historic preservation awards in 2003. Last year, the governor honored Pioneer Construction for its renovation of the former Berkey & Gay factory building and the revised American Seating complex.

On May 19, Granholm will recognize the work the Huysers and others have put their hearts into at a special ceremony in Lansing.

“It’s a very cool neighborhood. We bought here 34 years ago with the intention of moving out to the country, but we got totally hooked,” said Barbara. “It’s a great area for little shopping districts and it’s a great place to live.”    

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