Foreclosure splits family
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodayAVON PARK - There were worse days for Don and Peggy Cook to have lost their home, but the irony was inescapable: on Veterans Day, the bank was foreclosing.
Published: November 12, 2009
Published: November 12, 2009
The 11th hour of the 11th day of 2009 found boxes stacked on the narrow porch of the Cook's four-bedroom house on Berkley, a middle-class street through a rural subdivision off Stryker Road.
Fortunately, the Cooks have lots of family, and a half-dozen showed up from Palm Beach to help on Wednesday morning. The U-Haul arrived as Cook was explaining how he lost the sand-colored stucco they've called home for the past five years.
They moved here from Palm Beach after Don Jr. retired, said Peggy, a stay-at-home mom. Tyler Ann, 16, and Don Cook III, 7, came with them. Last year, Don's mother, Adele, also came to Avon Park, and so did Don Cook Sr.
Adele's sister died more than a year ago from bronchitis, said Don Jr., and now his mother is in the end stages of the same genetic illness, said her son, a registered nurse. That's why he was staying at home, to care for his parents.
As Don Jr. tells the story, in June, they sent a late mortgage payment to LaSalle Bank in San Antonio, which was returned with a note that they must make two payments, along with a $1,200 penalty. Since then, they've been trying to restructure their loan, along with help from the Veteran's Administration and ACORN.
Serving with Special Forces, Don Jr. trained insurgents in the Central American jungles. His father was an island fighter in World War II, and helped to liberate the Philippines, Don said.
Don Sr. is hard of hearing, and at an age where it's hard for him to answer questions. Adele wears oxygen, and finds it hard just to walk and to stand up.
At 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, a deputy knocked, Peggy said.
"I'm sorry, I've got to post this on the door," she recalled him saying. It was a colored paper with instructions. Underneath was a legal document, an eviction notice.
They had 24 hours to get out of the house.
The bank's agent
Maria Castilow, a RE/MAX Realty Plus real estate agent who specializes in handling foreclosed properties for banks, has been working with the Cooks.
EMC Mortgage Corp. of Lewisville, Texas, an agent for the bank, hires agents like Castilow to get possession of foreclosed properties, and then list the property for sale.
When she visited 2046 N. Berkley, Castilow found the Cooks still living there. Cook told her he was working on a loan modification.
"Which usually slows down the foreclosure," Castilow said. Typically, foreclosure is a 30-day process.
Through Castilow, EMC offered $1,600 in relocation money, if the Cooks would move out by Nov. 19.
"They offer cash for keys," Castilow said. "They assist in moving out."
Which is why Castilow was surprised to hear that a deputy told the Cooks on Tuesday they would be arrested for trespassing if they didn't vacate the property by Wednesday afternoon.
When she checked again on Tuesday, it appeared the foreclosure had gone through without her knowing about it.
"He doesn't own the home anymore," Castilow said on Wednesday, sounding a little stunned. Veterans Day presented a second problem for her: Highlands County Courthouse was closed. She couldn't contact the bank either.
"I'm really caught in the middle," Castilow said. "It's not anything I control. But my heart goes out to him. He's absolutely right; it's Veteran's Day, and there are two veterans in the house."
On Wednesday afternoon, the Cooks were moving, trying to accommodate the legal deadline.
Don Jr. outlined the plan. He rented a storage unit south of Avon Park. Everything they owned was going there.
"I guess my wife is going to take our daughter and go to her mother's in Palm Beach," he said. "And my son too."
But there wasn't enough room at his mother-in-law's apartment for six people, so he's taking his father and mother to upstate New York, where they'll stay until his mother's ordeal is over.
"We'll save our money," Don Jr. said. He gets a retirement check, which is what he'll live on. In the meantime, he'll try to renew his R.N. license and go back to work.
Highlands Today reporter Gary Pinnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-386-5828