`Extreme Makeover' in Cecil Co.

Woman who runs therapeutic riding center for disabled has new home and barn

October 22, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

PORT DEPOSIT -- There were balloons bouncing, welcome-home banners flapping, high school cheerleaders performing and a crowd of more than 3,000 people practicing a collective holler as they waited for the limousine to roll up the freshly paved driveway.

One week after Extreme Makeover: Home Edition sent the Luther family packing on a vacation to Italy, Renee Sherrard-Luther and her two teenage children returned yesterday to roars from onlookers.

On cue, the crowd shouted "Move that bus!" - the TV show's signature cry for a bus to pull away and unveil the new home for the family - followed by "Move that trailer!" so the Luthers could see the other facilities.

Sherrard-Luther, a recent widow who operates a nonprofit therapeutic riding center on her horse ranch, cried and her children gaped at the sight that greeted them: An expansive new home atop a knoll, an indoor riding ring for students, and a refurbished barn for the horses.

As Sherrard-Luther wept and hugged Ty Pennington, the show's spiky-haired, muscular star, spectators - even those who didn't know the family - cried and said Ahh! as the cameras rolled for the ABC-TV show in its fifth season.

"It's surreal," said Candace Fender, a close friend of Ellie, Sherrard-Luther's daughter.

Alex, Sherrard-Luther's son, ran to greet builder Clark Turner, whose Clark Turner Signature Homes had been asked to build the home in a week. The family, Turner and the show's star designers hugged repeatedly as the Luthers smiled and gasped at the structures that had been donated by Turner's Belcamp-based company, the show, dozens of suppliers and contractors, and volunteers.

The feel-good show selected Sherrard-Luther because of her recent loss, her work helping others and the hardship she faced.

Freedom Hills Therapeutic Riding Center is in its 25th year, offering riding lessons to disabled adults and children regardless of ability to pay. Sherrard-Luther's husband, Carl Luther, died of cancer last spring before realizing a wish to upgrade facilities for handicapped riders. The family's house had all sorts of problems, and the future of the therapeutic riding center was of growing concern.

"When Carl passed away, we didn't know if everything was going to be afloat," said Michelle Walker of Rising Sun, a longtime volunteer there. Her brother Charlie, who has Down syndrome, rode there for years. "He thrived - he loved it," she said.

Contractors who participated said they wanted to help a deserving family and give back to the community. So many people had offered to assume such tasks as sweeping floors and bringing snacks to the 1,500 tradesmen that by Tuesday, volunteers were turned away.

During the week, buses had shuttled spectators to the site to watch construction. One woman said her husband mused that the Extreme Makeover project was the most excitement in this Cecil County area since Tropical Storm Agnes blew through in 1972.

The interior of the stone-faced home will remain secret until the show airs in a few months.

"You've got to watch it with a box of Kleenex," gushed fan Sundee Nutter, a Cecil County police dispatcher.

Among volunteers who returned yesterday was Brian Carver, a Baltimore County police officer who doesn't know the Luthers. After working a 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, he spent several nights at the round-the-clock construction site, helping to put in windows, moving equipment, sanding drywall. "It was for a good cause. She is doing God's work," he said.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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