BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (March 28, 2006) — When television network ABC Inc. chose a needy family in Bartlesville to build a home for on its popular “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” show, tire dealers Chuck and Craig Tate led the charge in rounding up area businesses to volunteer and help.
The Tates, co-owners of Tate Boys Tire & Service L.L.C., donated time and resources to help the homeless family of widow Danna White open the doors to a new home in front of millions of TV viewers. On “Extreme Makeover,” a design team travels across the country rebuilding homes for deserving families. The team, led by carpenter Ty Pennington and made up of many volunteers, is in a race against time to complete within a week a project that normally would take months.
The episode featuring Mrs. White and her five children aired March 12, but construction actually began Jan. 23 and the house was revealed to the family Jan. 28, according to Craig Tate. He was one of the first area businessmen to get a call for help from a friend who worked at Simmons Homes, the Tulsa, Okla., contractor chosen to design and construct the White home.
“She told me what was going on,” he said. “She said the producer of ABC said part of the problem, or the biggest obstacle…to face is it's got to be confidential. So I got them in contact with people whom I serve on boards with but know can keep it confidential.”
The secret needed to be kept from the media and the family until Mr. Pennington surprised the family with his trademark “Good morning!” wake-up call, where he and the other network designers share the news with them, Craig Tate said.
“It's such a task to organize,” he said. “It's such a task to get volunteers. It was kept from the family. Don't ask me how, because I had customers walking in and going, 'So you guys are involved here?'”
The Whites' story was well known in Bartlestown, as people had held various fundraisers to help the family prior to “Extreme Makeover,” according to Craig Tate. Almost a year ago, John White, pastor of Bluestem Baptist Church in Dewey, Okla., died of a massive heart attack on his 19th wedding anniversary. Danna White was left a widow with five children under age 18 and soon had to move out of the parsonage they had lived in to make room for a new pastor.
With only a $50,000 life insurance policy, Mrs. White used that money to buy 10 acres in Dewey, Okla., to fulfill her husband's dream of some day owning land. The town's fundraising helped her buy a trailer but with no heat, Craig Tate said.
“It was just awful,” he said. “During the wintertime, they could not even shower there. They had to go shower at friends' houses because there was no hot water. You figure that everything that this family went through, from having a home, having a dad, from having a husband, their faith would be tested a little bit. But it never wavered.”
Craig Tate described his role in the project as the “behind-the-scenes guy” while Chuck Tate performed more hands-on, manual labor at the construction site. Craig Tate would receive calls from the volunteer coordinator at ABC who would need a number of volunteers to do a specific task for a shift, then he called those he knew in Bartlesville who could meet the need.
More than 1,500 in town volunteered to help ABC build a 5,000-sq.-ft. home and a barn for the Whites on their 10-acre property, Mr. Tate said. Tate Boys Tire even shut down all three of its stores and didn't open until 1 p.m. on Jan. 23, the first day of construction, so that employees would be free to volunteer at the site as well.
Chuck Tate said the dealership didn't have much time to give advanced notice of its late opening to customers because of how secretive the project was.
“I anticipated having some problems in that area, but all of our customers understood what we were doing, and who it was for,” Chuck Tate said. “Whatever inconvenience they had, they were willing to accept. We posted a sign at 5:30 Sunday night because (ABC goes) to the family, and that's when they find out that they're going to do it. At that point it wasn't anything that you had to keep a secret.”
Thirty-nine of Tate Boys Tire's 41 employees volunteered, Craig Tate said. “They bought into this project. That's what was really cool, because they weren't out there getting paid. But it was just the whole idea of giving to a family that was in need that I gained a lot of respect for my employees from that aspect.”
Some of Tate Boys' employees are qualified carpenters and helped put up pipe fixtures and cabinets inside the house, Chuck Tate said. Some worked on the house until 2 or 3 a.m. and still came in to work at the dealership at 8 a.m., Craig Tate added.
Tate Boys Tire's involvement with the White family wasn't limited to the “Extreme Makeover” segment. When the family returned from a vacation in Florida given to them by ABC while their home was constructed, a tire blew on the Whites' minivan, and Mrs. White came to Tate Boys, where her husband formerly had been a customer.
“The tire was ruined and knowing their financial shape, we just said we'll put a new set of tires on,” Craig Tate said, adding that the dealership donated a set of Cooper tires to the family.
Tate Boys Tire operates three retail stores—two in Bartlesville and one in Skiatook, Okla. The dealership, founded by the brothers' father Bob Tate almost 18 years ago, carries Cooper, Toyo and Michelin Americas Small Tires brands. Seventy percent of the dealership's business is in tires.
Craig Tate said the dealership expects its revenues in 2006 to jump to $8 million from $5 million with the addition of another store, which he declined to elaborate on.
Reflecting on the whole “Extreme Makeover” experience, Chuck Tate said the attitude of the volunteers was amazing, considering that the work had to be done in cold weather.
“When I look back at this, people ask what really stood out with this project, and it's the type of world that we wish the world was today, that everybody would get along and do their part to help,” he said. “That's exactly what you saw out there. As many different people were working in different spots of the house, I didn't see one person lose their patience or become irritated. It's like everyone was working with a smile and enjoying what they were doing.”