Home renovation not hindered by blindnessWritten by Heather Riedel | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“This house was one of the worst properties in the east side of Toledo and I’m going to take it to the best property,” Ernie Berry said.
Berry talks about the house he purchased last June as he stumbles around boards and scraps. He uses a cane because he doesn’t want his guide dog, Calypso, to step on a nail or a sharp piece of wood.
“When I’m by myself, I don’t mind if I fall down,” Berry said after catching his footing.
Berry, who was born blind, is fixing up the 5,000-square-foot pale yellow house on Oswald Street, which was built in 1896. He said it used to be a “crack house with
22 people living in it at one time.”
Berry has never let his blindness deter him from hard work. He has two degrees from UT, is working toward a master’s degree, was an intern in Washington, D.C., and has twice ran for political office.
“I was born blind and no one knows why,” the 22-year-old said. “The doctors never knew why. It’s just one of those things.”
In addition to not being able to see what he’s doing or where he’s going, Berry has to walk with a cane, the aftermath of a neurological attack when he was 16.
“I don’t see anything as being difficult for me,” he said. “I just have to do it. Giving up is not an option.”
The most difficult task while working on refurbishing the house was the demolition part, he said. It took nearly five months to clear the inside of the house. He said the work went faster because he did it himself.
“I wasn’t afraid of things falling on me because I couldn’t have seen them anyway,” Berry said. “If they hit me, they hit me.”
The house was in horrible shape when he bought it, he said.
“It was foul-smelling and there were condoms and crack paraphernalia everywhere,” he said.
Now, the house is gutted and the only things in it are spider webs draped around wooden beams and some scraps on the floor. It is dark and drafty, because the heat has not been installed yet.
Berry laughed as he recalled knocking down walls and clearing out the house, working well after the sun went down when the property would be dark inside. He remembers passing neighbors saying, “Hey Ernie, don’t you want a light on in there?” or, “It’s pretty dark in there.”
“What do I need a light for?” Berry said.
The house will be a twin-plex that will emulate an Old West End style home, Berry said.
“We’re not stopping just because of the weather,” Berry said. “We’re a month ahead of schedule, but no corners will be cut. It’s going to be a new home in an old building.”
Not busy enough
Berry said he bought the house because he “needed something else” to work on and he wasn’t busy enough.
The project, to which he estimates he has devoted at least 1,500 hours of labor since June, is a hobby, he said, and it won’t cut into the time he spends with other commitments during the week.
One of those commitments is chess. Berry began playing chess at age 5 and won the Northwest Ohio Regional Chess Championship in 1998.
“Everything in life, no matter what it is, is a chess game. You have to think ahead,” he said while relating his metaphor to the house. “I can see the finished project and if I can get to the checkmate ahead of schedule, I will.”
Along with chess, weight lifting has become an important hobby. After he suffered from spastic paraplegia neuropathy, which caused his legs to spasm and confined him to a wheelchair, he worked to rehabilitate himself and was able to walk again. He said he was encouraged to lift weights to strengthen his body, but he didn’t stop there. His motivation and competitive nature sent him to the National Bench Press Competition in Cleveland, where he placed fourth.
Berry also mentors neighborhood children, ages kindergarten through high school, teaching them to play chess and training them in weight lifting.
“I don’t want to sacrifice the time I spend with mentoring these kids every week,” Berry said. “I think one of the most important things is to be a role model to someone who looks up to you.”
Along with these hobbies, Berry works full time as the ADA coordinator for the City of Toledo, and is attending UT for his master’s degree in public administration.
“I love Toledo,” Berry said. “Toledo is my home. People haven’t said they’d entrust me with making governmental decision yet, but that doesn’t stop me from fixing up Toledo one house at a time.”
Berry credits his parents, Pete and Becky, for his perseverance in his life and his love for his hometown.
“We’re proud of our city and we’re going to try to take care of it,” Pete Berry said. He has given some advice to Ernie about the refurbishing of the house, but said it’s his son’s project. “The neighbors are all glad because it was an eyesore, but now they see progress.”
“There are always two outlooks on life,” Becky Berry said. “You have to find the good side and stay positive because the good seems to overtake. We live in this neighborhood and we want to keep it nice.” Becky Berry said she is proud of her son for all his accomplishments and for trying to make his neighborhood a better place to live.
Pete Berry added that when people ask him if he is proud of his son he says, ‘I’m not proud of him, I’m inspired by him.’”
With a supportive family behind him, Berry said, “There isn’t anything I can’t handle because I’ve proven to myself and others that I’m determined to do what I can for the city given my current situation.
“I think to myself that even though people think it [the house] is, physically, too much for me, I have that motivation and it feels good going to sleep after a hard day’s work.”