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Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Steve Wimmer, who is a newcomer to the John Taylor House, makes his bed.

Tucked behind a Flower Patch shop on 700 East and 2700 South, a historic house is doing a historic work.

The John Taylor House, built by John W. Taylor (son of former LDS President John Taylor) in 1891, is a grand residence built of rock and big enough to house Taylor, his six wives and children.

Since those halcyon days, however, the house has gone through various transformations. It is now serving as a nonprofit boarding house for men including mental health patients, former prison inmates and veterans.

"We love it, we love our mission here," managing trustee Lon Scow said. "It's a way of giving back to the community."

Scow runs a successful mortgage business and other profit-driven enterprises.

Walk through the three-story (plus basement) John Taylor House with Scow and his wife, Peggy Hepsak, and you can feel their enthusiasm for what they're doing. They show you through the home's 10 bedrooms, capable of housing 25 men (19 currently live there), telling stories and pointing out the computer equipment, food, personal care supplies, stove, industrial coolers and other donated items.

"We get a lot of donations from private people and the food bank," Scow said. "Some people drop off their old computers."

Scow becomes most energetic when he relates the home's success stories. He tells of an ex-convict who came to live at the John Taylor House right out of prison. The man had very little money, but he found a job at a car wash, paid his rent (residents pay $600 a month for room and board, $425 if they do chores around the house), and within two years had saved enough to buy his own home and move out.

"He came back, gave me a big hug, and paid $900 in back rent," Scow said. "That happens once in a million times."

Current residents of the house — whose stay ranges from a few months to several years — are at different places along life's road. Some are still in bed at mid- to late-morning, struggling to find a reason to get up. Others are gone to jobs or activities. Some are doing chores like raking leaves or cleaning the kitchen.

Roy Shoemaker, whom everyone calls Dice, is a longtime resident who has successfully weaned himself from drugs and rehabilitated himself from a spell at Point of the Mountain. He has become the John Taylor House's resident handyman and caretaker, directing residents' work and nagging them to make their beds.

"If it weren't for this place I would be dead or in prison or still doing drugs," he said.

Scow and Hepsak conduct weekly "work success" training programs for residents, pushing them to improve themselves and make the most of their lot in life. While he takes two visitors on a tour of the place, Scow carries an exercise book under one arm and a health drink under the other. He frequently refers to motivational authors like Bill Phillips and Wayne Dyer.

"There are rules to the game of life," he says, "and you can't play if you don't know the rules."

Scow has overseen a significant amount of physical improvement to the house since his nonprofit corporation, John Taylor House II, took it over from the bankrupt John Taylor House Corporation six years ago. New furniture was brought in, computers installed, televisions placed in each room and in a largish family room, the exterior renovated and other changes.

Rent and donations currently don't cover expenses, so Scow has been making up the difference out of his pocket. "This sort of arrangement cannot continue indefinitely, which is why we're reaching out to the community," he wrote in a news release publicizing the John Taylor House and its mission.

Scow is hoping for more community awareness, more renters and more contributions — particularly financial contributions — to help maintain the house, as well as fund needed capital improvements like a new roof, heating system and other projects.

In the meantime, he and Hepsak remain committed to what they're doing — helping men who come in with just the clothes on their backs and a few bucks in their pockets, if that.

"They come in with garbage bags and say, 'These are my things,' " Hepsak said.

Resident Allan Mabey said he was depressed and entertaining thoughts of suicide before becoming a resident.

"Living at the John Taylor House has been a blessing for me," he wrote in a testimonial. "My life now is much better, and I'm glad I'm here."

"I firmly believe God provides for those who genuinely love Him . . .," wrote resident Scott Bauer in a similar testimonial. "My personal experiences at the John Taylor House have been truly rewarding."

For more information, call 560-1476 or go to www.johntaylorhouse.org.


E-mail: aedwards@desnews.com