the walls are not bare; they are almost non-existent. The floorboards can’t creak because they are not all in place. The lights do not flicker because there is no reason to turn them on.

But despite the shell that only vaguely resembles the home they once shared, Todd and Loretta Hardin hope that soon, with the help of their friends and neighbors, they will be able to return to the place where they started their lives together.

For the past two years, the Hardins have been working with volunteers from their local church to completely remodel the interior of their home on Gladstone Avenue, which is about 100 years old.

Todd Hardin moved into the home 12 years ago after his brother, Warren, transferred ownership of the building to him. The house has been in the Hardin family for at least 50 years.

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The 71-year-old Korean War veteran met his now-wife, Loretta, about 2½ years ago, and the couple married six months later.

Loretta Hardin moved into the Gladstone house with Todd but only lived there about a week before trouble started.

Years of people moving in and out of the house had taken their toll on the Hardin family home and had created hazards to the couple’s health.

Loretta Hardin remembers in particular the sullied carpets that had been contaminated by a large dog that was once housed on the property.

“That, for me, was why I told him, ‘I can’t live here,’” she said.

Aside from the home’s wear and tear, the Hardins knew that soon the house might not be conducive to Todd’s disabilities. He uses a walker to get around, but one day he could have to switch to a wheelchair, he said.

The newlywed couple weighed their options and decided the best course of action was to gut the home and completely rebuild its interior — a task they learned would be much easier said than done.

After temporarily relocating to a house on Wallace Avenue, the Hardins set about dismantling the interior of their family home piece by piece, but quickly ran into roadblocks.

Aside from Todd’s struggles with movement, both he and Loretta suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, which makes breathing difficult, even in fresh air.

Working in a construction zone such as their home, where dust flies freely through the air, inhibited the couple’s breathing to the point where they were advised to limit their time inside the house.

The Hardins reached out to family members for help after their medical conditions inhibited their progress, but ultimately, it was their fellow parishioners at the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who stepped in and saved the day.

“There was nobody to help them, and I thought, ‘This is just sad,’” said Teresa Shoaf, a member of the Hardins’ church who has helped them with their renovation.

One by one, Shoaf and other volunteers from the church began to flood the Hardins’ home and help them demolish the interior. The walls were stripped down to beams, the plumbing pipes were taken out and the carpet was removed, all through the labor of church members.

“They told us, ‘Don’t worry about anything,’” Todd said.

Beyond their time and efforts, the Hardins’ fellow parishioners offered a gift the couple said they can never repay, both literally and figuratively — free labor.

Because they are both disabled, Todd and Loretta live on a fixed income that would not have been enough to pay for all the work that needed to be done.

So far, the renovations to the Hardins’ home add up to about $15,000, and the price will only continue to rise as more work is completed, Todd Hardin said.

“I don’t know what we would have done (without the free labor),” Loretta Hardin said.

Other than occasionally allowing Todd to buy them all a pizza, the Hardins said their friends from church refused to take any money for their services.

“It’s the best church I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“They’re just like family,” Loretta said.

The process of reinstalling the home’s amenities is likely to be even more expensive than gutting the interior, but church members are even stepping up to foot that cost.

After reaching out to various veterans aid agencies and coming up short, Shoaf said she and her husband, who own John Shoaf Construction in Columbus, decided in October to donate free labor through their company to complete the remaining work.

Additionally, the Shoafs set up a donation fund through MainSource Bank to allow other Columbus residents to help them complete renovations to their home.

“We’ll supply the framework inside for them, but they need more help,” Shoaf said.

Shoaf does not have an exact estimate of how much the work will cost, but donations of any amount will help, she said.

The Hardins hope their home will be ready for them to move into sometime next year.

How to help

Todd and Loretta Hardin have been renovating the interior of their home at 251 N. Gladstone Ave. for about two years. If you want to help the couple pay for the final phase of the renovation, you can donate to the “Hardins Veteran Relief Fund” through MainSource Bank. The fund was created by Teresa Shoaf and John Shoaf Construction.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.