Merry Christmas

After heart surgery, a family loses everything.

Steve Shriver Wells Fargo Sky Bank
Steve Shriver couldn't work for five months after heart surgery. - Walter  Novak
Steve Shriver couldn't work for five months after heart surgery.
Steve Shriver was fixing the ironing board when the pain came.

It was a Sunday in the warm center of July, and he was making his way through the wife's chore list. Having spent his life surrounded by sweat and dirt, aching ligaments and rough calluses, a little soreness was nothing unusual.

He'd poured concrete for a living, worked two jobs to support five kids, and built his own log house in the rolling green solitude of Minerva. Pain was integral to his existence.

But lately, his blood pressure had been rising. Just to be safe, Shriver went to the emergency room. That's where doctors found two clogged arteries. Suddenly, a 46-year-old with a wrestler's chest and a teenager's clean-shaven cheeks needed open-heart surgery.

For five months, Shriver wasn't even permitted to drive a truck. His decorative concrete business, already under bankruptcy protection, couldn't survive the added blow. He called his creditors and returned his equipment, then filed for Chapter 7. He was now free from the burdens of a broken business, but it also meant that Sky Bank could put a lien on his house, which he'd used as collateral.

In the five months he'd been without work, his house had also fallen into foreclosure. To get out of it, his bank, Wells Fargo, required extra payments.

The Shrivers scraped together the money, and by the summer of 2005, they thought they were out of foreclosure. They started paying their regular mortgage again.

But something still wasn't right. In July of that year, Wells Fargo returned their mortgage check, saying they were still in foreclosure and should be paying extra fees. The bank's lawyer had told them otherwise, and it took months to sort the matter out. During that time, the bank refused the family's checks. So they fell behind again. By December 2005, they were back in foreclosure.

Yet the Shrivers refused to give up. This wasn't just a house; it was a family legacy.

Thirty years ago, Shriver's father-in-law presided over 62 acres in this tiny village east of Canton. He also had five daughters and planned to give them each a plot when they got hitched. "When you married one of my daughters, you couldn't move any farther away than I could see you," Bill Milligan explains.

Steve himself largely built the house. On a hill overlooking a pond, it was a grander version of a log cabin, with plenty of room for kids and sledding parties. Their Kingdom Hall church was just down the road.

For 20 years, they lived in this castle, surrounded by a cocoon of family. Losing it was unimaginable.

So the Shrivers cobbled together $12,000 and paid off the bank last February. "We stayed in good grace from that point on with Wells Fargo," Steve says.

But suddenly, Sky Bank was back in the picture. It wanted to collect on the collateral from Steve's business loan.

Last March, the Shrivers were notified of a court hearing, but it was written in the alien tongue of lawyers and mentioned Wells Fargo and a default judgment, not Sky. The Shrivers called to check it out. Wells Fargo told them not to worry; they could skip the hearing.

But Sky won a judgment against them. Soon, a letter arrived saying that their house would be sold at sheriff's sale if they didn't pay off their $28,000 business loan. Steve says he offered $20,000; Sky wasn't biting.

Last June, the house went to sheriff's sale. Weirdly enough, Wells Fargo bought it. In the eyes of the law, the Shrivers were officially homeless.

Yet no one thought to inform them. Back in Minerva, the family kept sending in mortgage checks, and Wells Fargo kept taking them. The Shrivers were so sure their troubles were over, they remodeled the bathroom and put down new carpet.

"We thought everything was fine," Pam remembers. When she called, the bank would ask, "Do you intend on keeping your home?" and her answer was always "Yes."

Four months passed this way -- until October, when a letter from Wells Fargo's attorney calmly informed them that they would be evicted in 30 days.

The sheriff started showing up. More phone calls were made -- to the lawyer, the bank. But nothing helped. Customer service reps kept telling them to calm down: "Mrs. Shriver, you're fine, you don't have to worry." Even Freddie Mac, the federal underwriter that's supposed to help people keep their homes, said the eviction sounded like a scam.

"We didn't know who to trust," Pam says.

Finally, in November, Wells Fargo stopped talking. The bank lawyer's neatly typed letter arrived. It explained how they had lost their home at the sheriff's sale and that their months of wasted mortgage checks would be returned. But it also warned that the Shrivers would indeed be evicted if they didn't pay up. They had two weeks to decide whether they could buy back the house for $125,000.

They hired a lawyer. More letters followed. But the Shrivers couldn't get financing for a buyback. Their kids offered to buy it for them. The eviction date was pushed back to Christmas. A few days before, the bank agreed to a deal, but only if the Shrivers signed a settlement releasing the bank from all liability.

It was the last straw. "We're mad," says daughter Miranda Pearce. Why should they give a free pass to the company that caused all this misery?

So the Shrivers spent Christmas Day moving 20 years of furniture and memories. Five bedrooms were stuffed into two, as Pam and Steve and their twin 20-year-old daughters squeezed back into the nearby apartment the couple had rented as newlyweds.

The bank certainly hasn't tried to make amends. A few weeks ago, Pearce wrote a letter offering Wells Fargo $85,000 for the house, but hasn't heard back yet.

When contacted by Scene, bank spokeswoman Debora Blume said she would research the Shrivers' case, but then refused to talk.

Now, on a snowy January night, the family gathers around the fireplace. A warm glow brings Hallmark comfort. Pam and Steve sit in matching recliners. Their 10-month-old grandson pushes his Winnie the Pooh car around the room. Perched on the stone hearth, their daughters sift through mountains of papers tracing their disaster.

No one is eager to talk about it much outside these walls. They dread the gossips who will judge them as deadbeats for losing their house.

"It's such a humiliating . . . embarrassing, situation," Pam explains, fighting back tears.

Steve tries to be strong. He quotes Jehovah, counts his blessings, talks about the relatives who have reached out. "This is the house -- it's the family," he says.

But everyone knows it's not true. Their real house, the one they spent their lives building, sits empty on the hill. And they won't feel at home again until they return.

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