BROOKSVILLE — As circular saws whirled and hammers pounded, Joey Merrion's new life began to take shape Saturday thanks to his former classmates in Hernando High School's Class of 1983.
A decade ago, Merrion was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that stops people from moving.
He can walk with the help of a cane for short spurts but needs a wheelchair to get around. He owns one but can't get it outside his home without a ramp.
Earlier this summer, his limited mobility kept him from attending his 25th high school reunion. When his classmates learned this, they decided to help.
A dozen members of the class — traveling from as far as Texas and Ohio — reunited this weekend to help build a wheelchair ramp into Merrion's modest mobile home on the north side of Brooksville.
"We wanted to eliminate any excuses that keep him from getting out of the house and help him back into the land of the living," said Chip Palko, a former football teammate who drove from San Angelo, Texas.
The original plans called for just a ramp. But once his classmates started, they kept going. Inside the hallway they installed handrails. Same for the bathroom, along with a more accessible toilet.
The money and supplies for the project were donated by classmates and community members who saw Merrion's story last week in the Hernando Times.
"The community helped turn this mountain into a molehill," said Cheryl Holley, who helped organized the project with classmate Delores Williams.
Merrion watched the workers from a lawn chair in his driveway. He said he felt overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Recounting the contributions people made, he choked up.
"Everybody just came out of the woodwork, and I can't believe all the donations," Merrion said. "It's going to make my life a lot easier to manage."
Merrion attended Hernando High until 10th grade, when his family moved to Lakeland. He didn't think any of his long-lost classmates would remember him. But it didn't take long before they were swapping old stories from school.
"In school, Joey was very comical," April Herne of Brooksville recalled as she helped inside the home. "You lose touch over the years. If I had known he was here, I would have come to help."
Merrion said he won't forget his classmates now. "I'm going to be riding on that ramp for the rest of my life," he said. "And every time I ride it, I'm going to be thinking of them."
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.