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Published: Sunday, 12/21/2008

The 13 members of the Frisch family settle into their Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' house

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Blade will periodically feature intriguing homes and gardens that reflect the creativity of their owners. Tell us about your abode by writing Tahree Lane at tlane@theblade.com or calling 419-724-6075.

The made-for-TV home with gleaming dark-wood floors is beautiful, spacious, comfortable.

Of the myriad of new appointments gracing its 20 rooms, resident matron Jackie Frisch has a clear favorite.

It's not the master bedroom's king-size bed, crafted with timbers and painted lime green (what were you thinking, Ty Pennington?). Or the basement's home theater with bean-bag chairs, images of giant oriental dragons on the wall (a nod to Aaron Frisch's martial arts), and built-in speakers surrounding the red leather half-moon of a couch and matching oversized ottoman. Nor is it the copper bucket filled with rolled red-fleece blankets next to the rugged log fireplace. Not the locomotive-themed bedroom of Isaiah, the youngest of the 11 Frisch boys, who, at nearly 4 years old, has train brain.

Jackie loves it all, but what really grabs her is a colorful painting done by a thousand hands that hangs at the edge of the cabin-style great room.

'It just represents everything everybody did,' she says. It's my absolute favorite thing in the house.'

The acrylic-on-canvas depicts a heart and a hand. Its dime-sized dots were applied one at a time by bricklayers, carpenters, landscapers, the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (EMHE) crew, painters, police officers, neighbors, and onlookers who watched or worked as the Frisch's 1,800-square-foot West Toledo ranch house was demolished and a 4,250-square-foot house was constructed in one steamy September week.

In the three months since they moved into the house with its marvelous clothes drier (the old drier took forever to dry a load, let alone the six they do every day), two dishwashers, five bathrooms, and an endless supply of hot water, Jackie and Aaron Frisch's lives have changed.

They are local stars, recognized wherever they go; usually not a problem except when Aaron, a paramedic and Toledo firefighter, is on an emergency run. Several times he's been tending to someone when attention flips to him and somebody says, 'Hey, aren't you that Extreme Makeover guy?'

Jackie, a licensed clinical counselor and a natural at a podium, accepts speaking engagements on topics ranging from marriage and families to adoption, the community, and the Bible. Since the EMHE episode featuring the family aired Nov. 16, she has comforted many who share the tissue disease she struggles with (Ehrlers-Danlos Syndrome). By the age of 18, she'd broken 24 bones and undergone 14 surgeries. Complicating matters, she's had several strokes.

They're an especially articulate couple (she's 43, he's 40) with movie-star looks (Wendy and Peter Pan come to mind) and abiding affection for one another.

They're recipients of a stream of gifts: free college educations for the boys, laptops, four big-screen TVs, six sets of encyclopedia tastefully shelved behind glass doors in the dark-wood study that remains an adult lair.

At times, Jackie and Aaron are overcome with gratitude. But their focus remains fixed on family, friends, and faith. To them, the house and its trappings are a means to an end.

Wrapped in a Thomas the Train blanket and sunk into the sumptuous brown-leather couch in the great room, Jackie looks fatigued on a recent day. Along the far wall of the living room, four double doors face the yard. She hones in on something the builders never would have imagined: a nearby heating vent.

'I can hear everything [from downstairs in the game room], the ping-pong of the ball and the giggling. Sometimes it just overwhelms me to hear them. And the whole ceiling, the pitter-patter of the feet, the laughing and loving and making memories in the house. The kids may end up all over the world, and without a shadow of a doubt, they're going to remember this house and being brothers.'

The Frisch family. In the front row are Conner, left, and Joadson. In the center are Cole, left, Charlie (in the red shirt), Jackie, Isaiah, Moise, and Fabenson. In the back row are Mekail, left, Aaron, and Max. Not pictured are Blade and Megail. The Frisch family. In the front row are Conner, left, and Joadson. In the center are Cole, left, Charlie (in the red shirt), Jackie, Isaiah, Moise, and Fabenson. In the back row are Mekail, left, Aaron, and Max. Not pictured are Blade and Megail.
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Consider a typical afternoon on Planet Frisch: the boys come home from school in groups of twos and threes, the older teens sit on the couch and watch a bit of TV, the younger ones eagerly show off the trinkets they bought at the Santa's workshop sale at school before they rush off to play. Jackie gushes over their treasures. A teenager asks why she doesn't remember seeing his necklace before. Next-door neighbors Teri and Eddie Smith and some of their nine children wander over. Teri and Jackie are best friends. A toy is tossed back and forth across the great room, occasionally interrupted by an adult head. Peek-a-Boo, the English sheepdog puppy, barks at one of the three cats. A woman with a baby shows up no one knows who she is and stands in the foyer unnoticed for a while, taking off the baby's snowsuit. She has an idea for a book on adoption and wants to talk to Jackie about it. Eventually, she sidles onto the couch. These days, the Frisches have more company than ever.

'I love the sounds of life,' says Jackie. 'To me it's not commotion. I don't notice it.'

The kids spend lots of time in the basement game room with its ping-pong, pool, and air-hockey tables and a television set up for games and movies. And they love going up and down the stairs the old house had neither a basement nor a second-story.

Best of all is having a roomy corner of a bedroom to call their own.

Little Isaiah's bedroom, featuring a Thomas the Train bed, is just down a short, deep-red hall from his parents. Murals on his walls show trains, fire station Station 23 where Aaron works, Calvary Bible Chapel founded by Jackie's grandparents, and the Veterans Glass City Skyway. Near the nine-foot ceiling, a Lionel train zips on a track built around the room's perimeter. The ceiling's light fixture, a train car, was custom made, as were most of the home's light fixtures.

Jackie and Aaron's bedroom is large enough to accommodate everybody when they call out in Haitian Creole 'vinnie pou bibla' summoning all, including visitors, to pray every evening. Kids pile on and around the big green bed for a reading from the Bible, prayer requests for various needs, and praise time for recounting good things.

'It's a wonderful time to talk to each other,' says Jackie. The room features a gas fireplace, a fish tank, and a huge bathroom with a jacuzzi tub they haven't had time to use. On Sept. 14, when they returned from a week at Disney World and toured the new home, all 13 of them squeezed into the stand-alone shower, just for fun, when the television cameras weren't looking.

A blown-up framed photo shows a pile of 13 hands, doing the Team Frisch cheer 'which we do when we've got something special to do,' says Aaron.

The new house built by the  Extreme Makeover: Home Edition  crew and community volunteers. The new house built by the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition crew and community volunteers.
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The kitchen is centered with a large working island. There's plenty of good wiring, unlike in the previous kitchen (a cozy 5-by-12-feet). With the fridge running, they had to plug in the crock pot in a different room and the skillet in yet another to avoid tripping the breaker.

The kids love the twin dishwashers; their parents love the twin ovens.

'I cook a mean meat loaf and chili,' says Aaron, who bakes cinnamon rolls, cookies, and cakes. 'And Jackie's an incredible cook.' She hadn't learned the joy of cooking when they met in 1989 after being introduced by their landlady. They married in 1992, when he was 23 and she 25.

Meals on Planet Frisch are an even bigger production than you might expect: 20 pounds of meat loaf or 15 pounds of chicken for 24 mouths. Yes, 24. There's an open-door policy with the Smiths next door, who join the Frisches for dinner about three nights a week. Whereas Jackie enjoys cooking ('I cook for love'), her long-time friend, Teri does not. Everybody gets one serving of the main dish; side dishes, often rice, noodles, or corn, usually make a second pass around the table.

Mr. Smith was recently laid off from his job as a train conductor at Norfolk Southern railroad. 'By June we might have one big house,' jokes Jackie, who sang at their wedding and has known Teri since the two were children.

The dining room table and 14 chairs are supplemented by eight stools, which can be pulled around a kitchen counter.

The vast basement includes more than the game room and home theater. There's a storage area and another space that may become a bedroom. Three of the five boys who were born in Haiti share the 'pixel' room. A silk-screen applied to the wood floor looks like a computer motherboard and a pixelized map of Haiti covers a wall. Joe, 18, and Benson, 17, want to study computers in college. Moise, 19, is mulling a medical career. All want to return to help their impoverished homeland someday.

It was after Jackie's 2001-02 mission trip with the church youth group to Haiti that she and Aaron began the adoption process for the five boys. Moise and Max arrived in Toledo in 2004; Joe and Charlie came in 2006, and Benson finally made it in March of this year.

Three of the boys were born locally. Little Isaiah came to the Frisches immediately after his birth in 2005. Mekail, 8, and Megail, 14, lived with the Frisches for a few years before their adoption was finalized in June.

Blade, 15, Conner, 13, and Cole, 10, are Jackie and Aaron's biological children.

Aaron estimates they've spent $75,000 to $100,000 on adopting Haitian boys. 'But God has been good and given us almost every bit of it,' he says. 'When you tithe, everything changes.' He was born and raised Jewish. Jackie waited to marry him until he converted to Christianity.

The second floor has two large bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a laundry room with a second washer and dryer that has inspired the teenagers to do their own laundry.

In what they've dubbed the 'civil service room,' Cole and Charlie, both 10, and Mekail, 8, are surrounded by police and fire memorabilia and terrific murals of a spotted Dalmatian, an exposed brick firehouse wall, and a giant police badge.

Charlie, who wants to be a police officer, has a police-car bed with a light bar and sirens on top. An actual fire hose is coiled up in a corner, an actual fire-fighter's jacket is draped over a bookshelf. An impressive collection of gauges and levers from a truck's pump panel is framed on the wall next to the bunk bed that was built from an old fire truck on site in September.

Sharing the long 'dorm' room divided by a floor-to-ceiling partition are Blade, 15, and Conner, 13, on one side, Megail, 14, and Max, 17, on the other. On each half there are two desks, a mini fridge, and two double beds facing a large wall-mounted TV. Above each bed is big photo of each boy. The walls are painted with wide horizontal stripes in lime green, medium blue, and white. Shelves hold framed black-and-white photos of the boys taken in DisneyWorld, sent from Florida by Disney staff, and installed by the time the family returned home a few days later.

Outside in the newly fenced yard is a picnic table that seats at least 20. 'My Wednesday night youth group and I made this two summers ago,' notes Aaron.

There's a permanent fire pit which they've been too busy to use, and in the far corner, a pond with waterfall. It's three times bigger than the one Aaron had dug and filled in with rocks he and the boys hauled from the Maumee River after Jackie's surgery for removal of her large intestines.

'We wondered if she was going to make it, and I dug her a pond so she could get out and get fresh air,' he says. On the stockade fence hang several of the primitive-style plates and knicknacks Jackie had in the old house.

Gone is the swimming pool the kids loved. 'They (the Extreme Makeover

staff) asked the family if they'd like a pool. All the kids said yes and I said the pool would be wonderful but it's not going to be a deal breaker.'

Inside, Aaron shows Jackie a small slit in the canvas of the heart-and-hands painting and suggests it be repaired and then framed. Jackie doesn't want a frame that would cover the daubs on the edges. She wants to see every stoke of the brush.

In the pointillist (dotted) style, the painting was the idea of Robert Zollweg. As design and creative director at Libbey Inc. and a pointillist painter himself, he operated the Extreme Makeover VIP tent during the build and was aware of the new home's interior color palette. He and others carried the canvas, brushes, and paints to workers and bystanders, telling them where to apply red or pink or green.

'It was inspirational with me,' says Mr. Zollweg, who continues helping the family. 'People all felt they had a part in it. It's Jackie's symbol of what the community has done for her.'

Jackie says the children describe the family as S'mores: Light brown like the crackers, white like marshmallows, and dark brown like chocolate.

'If people can just get that concept you don't lose yourself when you come together, you just get more beautiful,' she says.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.



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