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Local News

Volunteers remodel house for Morris family that doubled in size after death of loved ones

Morris family rebuilds their lives; loved ones rebuild their home

MORRIS – It’s been a devastating two years for the Martello family.

But as Marty and Jennifer Martello of Morris rebuild their lives – and the lives of their orphaned niece and three nephews, ages 9 to 18 – friends are rebuilding their home to accommodate the larger family.

Here’s what happened: Two brothers – Marty and Gary Martello – married two sisters, Jennifer and Natalie, respectively. On Dec. 5, 2014, Gary, 52, died from melanoma.

The following April, Natalie learned she had an aggressive leukemia. She died Dec. 30, 2015.

Two weeks prior to Natalie’s death, Marty and Gary’s father died. About six months before Gary’s death, their brother also died. Jennifer said the family is frazzled, but appreciative – especially now that the children realize the remodeling is for them.

“A part of me is having a hard time picking out material and stuff because it’s bittersweet,” Jennifer said. “If my sister hadn’t passed away, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

On June 18, 15 volunteers moved Marty and Jennifer out of their 1850 Morris home. The goal is to bring the home up to code – while retaining its original charm – and then enlarge it for eight people. Marty and Jennifer’s two children, both in their early 20s, also live at home.

A pod is holding the Martellos’ furnishings during the construction. Running the 20-year-old family business – Martin’s Canvas and Upholstery – will be challenging, but Jennifer said customers have generously offered space at their homes.

Ray Szalko, a Mokena carpenter and general contractor for the project, hopes to keep costs under $200,000. To that end, friends are asking for monetary donations for materials, volunteer skilled labor and extra volunteers willing to help where needed. Szalko designed the addition in January.

“My mother died when I was very young, so it’s a personal thing to me,” he said. “There were people that stepped up and helped my dad when I was a kid. I thought, ‘It’s payback time.’”

During the remodeling, the family will live in Gary’s and Natalie’s Plainfield home, where Jennifer has spent most of her time this past year. Keith Vacey of Orland Park, one of the volunteers, said the crew is aiming to complete the project in six months.

“That’s without any hiccups,” he said.

Overall, the kids are handling the transition, Marty said.

“They’ve kept up their grades for the most part,” he said. “We put one of them in soccer in Plainfield and he looks like he’s been out there the whole time with all the kids that started when they were 5. It’s a good outlet for him.”

Marge Szalko of Orland Park, Ray’s sister-in-law, said everyone is taking the situation one day at a time.

“I think once the family is settled under one roof, it will be better,” she said.


How to help

Mail donations to “Project Martello – Family Helping Family” at Ottawa Savings Bank, P.O. Box 465, Morris, IL 60450. To volunteer, email

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