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Houses for Heroes: Vets grateful for donated homes

Army veteran Joel Sigfrid, who while deployed to Afghanistan suffered a severe traumatic brain injury from an IED that injured him and his 12-man crew, speaks with his grandmother, Mary Lou Hale, on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, in Blaine, Minn. Sigfrid was surrounded by family and friends as he took in the features of his mortgage-free home.

DAVID JOLES, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE/MCT

By SHANNON PRATHER | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: October 21, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS (MCT) — Retired Army Specialist Joel Sigfrid humbly took the keys to his split-level home recently week surrounded by family and friends. Wells Fargo donated the bank-owned home to the nonprofit Military Warriors Support Foundation, which will eventually deed it to Sigfrid. It’s the 160th home that Wells Fargo has donated to help veterans and the fifth one in Minnesota.

“It feel likes winning the lottery,” Sigfrid said as he toured the newly remodeled three-bedroom house.

But this is no stroke of luck. He’s earned it.

Sigfrid, 36, medically retired from the Army in September after being awarded two Purple Hearts. He served for six years, including deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military service is a tradition in his family, he said, starting with his great-great-grandfather in World War I.

On July 11, 2012, Sigfrid and his 12-man crew were on patrol in Afghanistan when they encountered an improvised explosive device. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury but went back to work within months. On Oct. 3 of that year, while on patrol in Afghanistan, Sigfrid was shot by a sniper.

Sigfrid was later stationed at Fort Hood in Texas but has since moved to Florida. He and his fiancée, Christina, will be making the move to Minnesota in the coming weeks. Recently the couple did spend the first few nights in their new home.

Sigfrid was born in St. Paul but moved to Florida as a young child. He returned to Minnesota each summer to visit family in the Anoka and Coon Rapids area. His mother, Leslie Hale, lives in Stillwater and was on hand as he saw his home for the first time.

When her son learned he would be getting the house mortgage-free, “He couldn’t believe it,” Hale said. “He was super excited.”

The G.I. Bill and other resources are paving the way for Sigfrid to go to college. He’s eyeing Anoka Technical College and Anoka-Ramsey Community College. He said he has a number of interests that he may study.

“I am thinking nutrition and personal training and also some art and agriculture,” said Sigfrid, who likes to paint, draw and dabble in the garden.

He also will be getting a bit of an education in personal finance through the Military Warriors Support Foundation. The program is designed to help veterans increase their financial literacy and develop lifelong money management skills. After veterans complete three years of financial mentoring, the home is deeded to them.

In the meantime, the veterans do pay taxes and insurance on the house, as well as for minor household repairs, said Angela Vander Werf, who oversees Wells Fargo’s military donations.

“It never gets old. I tear up every time,” Vander Werf said. “It is so rewarding to see.”

“It’s something I never expected. I really appreciate it,” Sigfrid said after accepting the key. “I will take good care of it.”

©2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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Army veteran Joel Sigfrid is greeted by hugs from family and friends as he arrived at his new home, donated by Wells Fargo to the nonprofit Military Warriors Support Foundation.
DAVID JOLES, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE/MCT

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