Our Neighbors....The Steve Anderson Family

Steve and Lisa Anderson and their young family will be home for Christmas this year - but only in their dreams. That's because the prefabricated components of their home-to-be are sitting in a storage shed on the Kelley Avenue lot where their hou...

Steve and Lisa Anderson and their young family will be home for Christmas this year - but only in their dreams.

That's because the prefabricated components of their home-to-be are sitting in a storage shed on the Kelley Avenue lot where their house will one day stand. The joists, framework, countertops, flooring and all other materials (except for the sheet rock) arrived a couple of weeks ago on a semi-tractor trailer truck from Mississippi, and all that stands in the way of the start of construction is the pouring of a cement slab.

The house is the next one on tap to be built by Carlton County Habitat for Humanity volunteers, with Steve and Lisa themselves working right alongside them.

When completed, the new home will represent the first real home the Andersons have ever owned - and if ever anyone deserved a place of their own, this dedicated young family most certainly does....

Lisa was born in Cloquet and adopted at a young age by a family in St. Paul, where she grew up. After graduating from St. Paul's Central High School seven years ago, she decided to move north once again and began working at Black Bear Casino.


"I wanted to do it just for a change and to kind of get away from the big city," she admitted.

Enter - Steve Anderson, who was born in Duluth and moved to the Carlton County area when he was eight. He later attended Barnum High School and was active in area hockey programs. After spending time in the construction trade in Michigan following high school, Steve came home and began working at the casino, doing maintenance work on the slot machines. He had been there for almost a year when he first met Lisa.

"I was out on sick leave for a couple of months, and when I came back, I saw him - and that was that!" she grinned.

"She had a little Geo Prism that wasn't starting right," elaborated Steve. "Word got around that I worked on vehicles, so I ended up putting a starter in for her, and the next thing I knew, we were going out on a date. Now here we are - seven years later!"

Three months after they met, the two decided to move to Las Vegas to try their hand at working at the casinos there. Unfortunately, things fell through and they ran out of money, so Steve signed up for training in over-the-road truck driving, a job he worked at for the next three years.

"From Vegas we went up to Salt Lake City, Utah," he explained, "where I went through six weeks of schooling, got my Class A license and went on to drive for Warner out of Omaha, Neb. It was an ongoing thing, and I hardly ever stopped. It was hard - really hard when we found out Lisa was pregnant. The company wouldn't work with me, though, so I left and hitchhiked all the way back from Omaha to Minnesota."

The two of them were married in September 2001, and their son Spencer was born Dec. 22.

After that, the little family lived in a variety of different places and apartments and also with Steve's parents off and on.


"We've definitely had our fair share of places to live," admitted Steve.

Following Spencer's birth, Steve got a job working for Timberline Express driving truck over the road, but he was home on weekends. And then, Lisa found she was pregnant once again.

About four months into Lisa's pregnancy, she discovered she was carrying twins.

"She was so big at four months," said Steve, "that everybody was joking, saying, 'You're going to have twins!' but she kept saying, 'No, I'm not!'"

"When I went in for the ultrasound," Lisa recalled, "Steve was on the road with his dad and I called him up and said, 'Guess what?'"

"I was coming south from out of Grand Forks, heading to Fargo on I-29," replied Steve. "When she called me on the phone with the news, it really shook me up!"

Though both have twins in their background, Steve said it's been some 50 years since twins last occurred in his family.

The Andersons' twin sons were born almost two months early, on Feb. 1, 2005. Travis weighed in at two pounds and Carter was four.


"A little after 3 o'clock in the morning," said Lisa, "I called Steve's mom, who lived next door to our rented trailer house, and said, 'I think I'm in labor!'"

Steve had left on a run to Fargo about 7 o'clock that night and was getting ready to head back from Fargo around midnight or 1 o'clock when the phone started ringing.

"I thought I was dreaming," he admitted. "Something inside me told me to wake up and check the phone. I called home and my dad answered and said everyone was up at the hospital - our babies were being born! I called the dispatcher and told him I had to drop the load because my wife had gone into labor. I got here about eight the next morning after only about two hours of sleep."

Carter was born at 6:12 a.m. and Travis followed soon afterward at Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet.

The babies had to be airlifted by Life Flight helicopter to St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth because they were so small and were having trouble breathing at first. Lisa, however, had to stay on in Cloquet for the rest of the day.

"I only saw their heads because they had them all wrapped up, and then they were shipped off to Duluth," she said. "Everyone else got to see them before I did! The next day I was transferred there myself, and that's when I really got to see them for the first time."

The twins were born on a Tuesday morning and on Friday morning, Steve came to the hospital to find Lisa in tears.

"When I had first arrived at St. Mary's earlier in the week," related Lisa, "the doctors had looked at the boys' hands and their facial features and indicated they were going to do some tests because they suspected they might have Down syndrome."


"The test on Travis came back positive," related Steve, "and then they did another test on Carter just to be sure, and that one came back positive also. The chances of both twins having Down syndrome are very, very slim - something like one in a million. Why it happens they don't exactly know."

What followed was a time of questioning, tears - and even anger.

"It took a while to get used to it," admitted Lisa.

"We had a lot of anger and frustration and were always running to the doctor," said Steve. "We were always wondering why they were spitting up and things like that. Why, why, why - trying to figure all that out."

And then there was older brother Spencer, who was always vying for attention when most of the family's time and energy was focused on the challenges facing the twins.

Travis and Carter remained at St. Mary's for the rest of the week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. At first, they were too small even to be held, but later Steve and Lisa could pick them up and cradle them in their arms.

For a time, things were touch and go with Travis, the smaller of the two, because doctors weren't sure if he was going to make it or not. He had an intravenous tube inserted to give him nutrients, but he had to eventually be transferred to Children's Hospital in the Twin Cities, where he underwent surgery for a blockage in his upper intestine to reattach the intestine to the stomach.

Carter, on the other hand, was home within two weeks.


"Carter seemed fine and normal when we were going through all of the hassle with Travis over the next two months," said Steve. "After that, Travis seemed fine - and then it was Carter's turn. He had a blockage in the duodenum that had to be cut out, and now he just has a straight shot through to his stomach. Food builds up and we have to give him medicine to keep it down and help him digest. He's still spitting up all the time, and we have to give him special milk and other special medication, but it hasn't seemed to help. Travis can eat anything and everything, but Carter can't. It's like he can't control his tongue the right way and make it go from side to side and so he chokes."

Carter is currently working with a therapist at Community Memorial Hospital to encourage him to move his tongue back and forth when he chews.

"It's slow going," admitted Lisa, "and it will probably be a long time yet before he gets to eat regular food."

The first year the twins were in and out of the hospital all of the time.

"It seemed as though every other day we were in the emergency room," said Steve.

The rented trailer house the young family was living in next door to Steve's parents in rural Carlton was musty and mildewy and the twins had lots of breathing problems and bronchitis. A year ago Steve and Lisa made the decision to move in with Steve's parents, where Steve built an addition on to their house for them so all of them could fit in there comfortably.

"I wasn't going to put money into a trailer house that was 25 years old," he said, "so we decided to stay at my mom and dad's house until something else came along."

"We were looking at houses," added Lisa, "but most of the ones we looked at just wouldn't work. The bank had only approved us for around $60,000-$70,000, and the places we looked at weren't much better than the trailer house. They needed a lot of work, and with three kids it would have been really hard to do."


And then, one of their social workers called and said, "I know your situation and I know you're house hunting. Habitat for Humanity is taking applications for a family for the next house they plan to put up, and it wouldn't hurt to put one in."

"We did just that," said Lisa, "and the committee came to the house and interviewed us and looked at our living conditions. That was last February, and a month or two later, we found out we'd been selected!"

"That was a very happy day," agreed Steve.

The couple picked out floor plans, arrangements were made to bring the house up from a manufacturer in the South who specializes in Habitat homes, and everything seemed like a go - until they had trouble finding a contractor to pour the concrete slab.

"It's frustrating, but we're very thankful for everyone who's donated and helped so far," said Steve. "If there was a slab, I'd probably be there right now working on it. The house will go together quick once we have the slab down and get the lines run to where we need them. The walls will go up really quickly."

The Andersons' new house will have four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a living room, dining room and kitchen.

"This new house that's coming is going to be great," said Steve. "It will be a brand, new environment and everything's going to be clean, everything's going to be sanitary and it will even have a filtration system that's actually changing the air in the house all the time. That's really going to help."

The twins still have problems with their musculature and digestive systems. Every week they have two therapists come in to work with them on speech and occupational therapy, and once every two weeks a physical therapist comes in to work with them as well. That's something that older brother Spencer still has a hard time coping with.

"When the twins' therapist comes to the house to work with them," said Lisa, "Spencer just thinks she's a teacher who has come to play with everybody."

The Anderson twins will turn three in February, and their motor skills are gradually developing, though very, very slowly.

"Everything they gain has to be relearned all over again after one of them goes into surgery," said Steve.

In many ways, however, they're much like other energetic young toddlers - they like to play ball, and they love music and dancing as well.

"They copy Spencer a lot, and they love him and like running after him," said Lisa.

The Andersons will get a zero interest loan to pay for the building materials that go into their new house over a period of the next 25 years. In the meantime, Steve and Lisa are teaching their sons sign language to make up for their limited verbal skills, and life is on as even a keel as can be expected.

Steve, now a lube mechanic at Cloquet Ford Center, works only a short distance from where their new house will be located, and he looks forward to the day when he'll be just minutes from home.

He said he doesn't ever second guess leaving the truck driving job that would have kept him away from home for long stretches of time.

"Basically, I had to make a choice," he admitted. "I sacrificed some really good money - but I'd rather be home with my family and help deal with things."

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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