By Ruben Rosario
Things seemed bleak for Stella and Joseph Hernandez last fall. The St. Paul couple faced a Halloween Day eviction deadline and homelessness after their foreclosed Cathedral Hill home was put up for sale by Freddie Mac.
Joe is a 93-year-old decorated World War II combat and disabled veteran who suffers from dementia. Stella, 83, his wife of 66 years, is his sole caretaker and is stricken with cancer. The only person fighting to prevent the eviction at that time was a niece who seemed to have run out of options.
"We want to die here in our home," Stella told me at the time. "But it looks like we might end up homeless wanderers."
Last week, six months later, Joe and Stella finally learned their fate after their 91-year-old Tudor-style home - a holy water's sprinkle from the Cathedral of St. Paul - was purchased by a north metro couple of some means who wish to remain anonymous.
The do-gooder couple bought the home on the condition that Joe and Stella live there until they pass away or can no longer live there safely or independently.
"Anyone who read (the couple's plight in this column six months ago) would say this isn't right and a shame," said the man who bought the home, together with his wife. "We were kind of inspired to do something. We asked ourselves: 'Why can't we buy this place?' "
Yes, Virginia, there is something far better than a Santa Claus: unsung heroes from all walks of life who step up daily and without fanfare to help someone in need.
"This is another example of Minnesotans wrapping their arms around people who need help," said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who got involved after reading about the couple's predicament. "I'm proud of the work our staff did in delaying the eviction and allowing time to make the purchase work. But I'm mostly proud of the community that stepped up to the plate to help a two-time Purple Heart recipient and his wife."
LOST HOME THROUGH FRAUD, THEY ALLEGE
Joe and Stella maintain they were victims of fraud at the hands of a grandson who had them unwittingly sign a quitclaim deed and forged their signatures on power-of-attorney forms several years ago. The documents were then used to secure more than $300,000 in loans from his then-employer's federal credit union, with the home used as collateral.
According to court papers, the grandson, now 40, who lived with the couple while he attended the University of St. Thomas, eventually defaulted on the loans and owed $310,928.14.
A preliminary probe by the Minnesota Department of Commerce found that one of the alleged notaries public who signed off on one of the power-of-attorney documents could not be found and never had a commission in the state. The other notary public insisted she did not know the grandson and never signed the documents.
Joe and Stella filed suit in 2009 against the estranged grandson and the lender. The grandson denied wrongdoing through his lawyers. But the judge tossed out the suit on default after Stella failed to appear for several pretrial hearings. Stella blamed the absences on medical appointments and emergencies. The judge confirmed that his ruling had no bearing on the merits of the allegations contained in the lawsuit.
Freddie Mac bought the foreclosed home early last year at a sheriff's sale for $257,297.63. Eviction proceedings were launched after the grandson made no apparent attempt to pay off the loans during the six-month redemption period.
Joe and Stella remain estranged from the grandson as well as the man's father, the couple's only child and a physician who lives in Ohio.
COUPLE'S LOVE IS 'PHENOMENAL'
The couple who bought the home praised the Freddie Mac officials they dealt with, including one "who felt strongly that she did not want to see these people put out of their home."
Brad German, Freddie Mac's senior communications director in Washington, called the resolution "a triple win that meets our business requirements and supports our goals to stabilize communities and help minimize losses to America's taxpayers."
The buyers said the demonstration of love between Joe and Stella when they first met the couple in February "sealed the deal for us."
"That love is just phenomenal, and Stella's a peach," said the wife.
Although it was a group effort, the couple credited Joe and Stella's niece, Vicki Giller, for going "beyond and above" in helping out the elderly couple. Giller went to court several years ago to void the contested power of attorneys and advocated for the couple during some emotionally taxing periods in the past few months when it seemed the deal would fall through.
"This whole ordeal for me was very heartbreaking and a lot of tears with Stella and very frustrating," Giller told me. "But yet, I have seen a lot of angels that came to help and just to talk to Stella and Joe, to comfort them in prayer. My family can't say thanks enough to them."
As for the buyers, "I want (them) to know that they are the angels that we have been praying for and they have given my aunt and uncle peace of mind that they will not have to leave their home and they will keep living the rest of their lives in their home in peace."
Or, as Stella put it to me this past week: "A miracle has happened, and our prayers have been answered."