BLENCOE — Viola Phillips, an unemployed, disabled great-grandmother raising two young children, recently read an Associated Press story in the Clinton Herald about an essay contest being held by a Blencoe couple.

Nichole and Cory Thoman were offering to give away their two-story, three-bedroom home to the winner of the essay contest. All prospective entrants needed to do was pay $5 to enter and write a 200-word essay explaining why they wanted the home.

Soon, Phillips will be able to call that house her home.

Phillips had been living with her two great-grandchildren, 4-year-old Lexes and 5-year-old Joshua, at friend David Gerlach’s home in Clinton’s north end, but knew she needed to find a place for herself and her young charges.

“We had to have a place to live,” she said. “When I saw the story in the Clinton (Herald) newspaper and saw the big picture, I just kind of got this electrified feeling like when the Holy Spirit of God moves me. And so I prayed and sat down and wrote a letter to Nichole.”

She explained in her letter that she knew if she kept her faith in God, he would take care of her as she took care of Lexes and Joshua.

Nichole Thoman explained their reason for giving their home away — they were moving to a new home in Omaha, Neb., Nichole said, adding, “I saw the (Blencoe) house as a huge gift and blessing to us, when we bought it for $5,000. I want to pass it on to someone who will see it that way as well,... someone who will be grateful for it.”

A little more than two weeks ago, Thoman began reading through the 176 entries from 18 states, assigning each essay a score of 1 to 10. Those garnering an 8 or more were read by a panel consisting of Thoman and two friends.

“God will pick the winner,” she said at the time.

Fast-forward to late last week: Viola Phillips was at a friend’s home in Clinton, when Nichole Thoman called her to let her know she had just become a new homeowner.

“When Nichole called me I cried and I could not hardly talk,” Phillips, 59, told a Sioux City reporter at the time. “Then my heart was just so big that I couldn’t hardly stand up. My granddaughter Lexes kept saying, ‘We’re going to move! We’re going to move!’”

The assessed value of the Thoman’s Blencoe home is $27,358, according to the Monona County Assessor’s Office.

So Lexes and Joshua will indeed move soon with their great-grandmother across the state to Blencoe — they left Sunday to meet the Thomans on Monday, and to see their new home for the first time. Phillips, who suffered a back injury a year ago at her workplace, has struggled to pay for therapy, and said she and the children got a huge boost from that phone call.

“Nichole was just as lovely on the phone as I imagined her to be,” said Phillips. “I can’t wait to give her a great big hug.”

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