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Family pulls together in Jacksonville

It's a lesson the pioneers learned when faced with the uncertainties of life: Sometimes all you can do is circle the wagons, rely on each other and hope for the best.

In the modern world, with its emphasis on individualism and families separated by long distances, that lesson often is forgotten. But in Jacksonville, an extended family lives in three houses on two side-by-side lots so they can all help each other. Their arrangement reinforces the importance of those old values.

The parents are John and Roberta Rier, now 78 and 75. Their daughter, Rene, and her husband, Brad Beavers, are 51 and 52. And then there is Whit Rier, 53.

In 1989, Whit was involved in an industrial accident that left him first in a coma, then in a wheelchair with rather severe brain damage. Whit's wife at the time followed the advice of doctors and placed him in an institution. His parents and sister, however, didn't like that advice, so they took him home. The senior Riers created a wheelchair-friendly room in their Medford home for him, and Whit's long road back began.

It was tough, physically and emotionally, on everyone. Rene had been close to her brother, and her husband had been his best friend. Gradually, Whit improved.

At one time, the Beavers had rented a home they really loved, though it was just an old, run-down farmhouse on the edge of Jacksonville. Then the couple moved to a large, new house in Medford near her parents. They lived there for 10 years, but always in the back of their mind was that old Jacksonville "home."

They called and asked the owner if she would sell. The owner didn't want to see the half acre broken up into small lots, and she knew the Beavers loved the place. So she sold.

The 1940s-era building needed a new foundation, new plumbing and new electricity. The Beavers took it down to the walls and added a broad porch and a new gable roof, doing much of the work themselves. In 2008, they moved in.

Then they started Whit's house, a 1,000-square-foot guesthouse on their lot. The Riers were getting up in years, and John Rier was ill. The Beavers thought it was time to take over responsibility for Whit.

The two-story guesthouse has downstairs areas for Whit and an upstairs bedroom and bath for a caregiver. The flooring is commercial-grade tile to withstand wear from his motorized wheelchair. The living room-dining room-kitchen with open floor plan is decorated in "Star Wars" posters and the former Eagle Scout's collection of eagles. His bedroom and bath have assistance bars and a roll-in shower.

Whit is very proud of having his own house. He feels independent, and he knows his sister is only a shout away through the intercom system when the caregiver isn't there at night. A smooth sidewalk connects the two buildings.

In 2009, the Riers sold their Medford home and moved into a downstairs master suite the Beavers added onto their house until a new house next door was finished.

The one-story house also has an open floor plan and wheelchair-friendly features, both for Whit's visits and any future needs of the parents. When the Beavers go away, the Riers get Whit's intercom.

The Rier home features a broad front porch with a swing and screened porch in back. The floors in both main houses are wheelchair-friendly wood laminate. It also has open shelving in the large pantry, bead-board cupboards, a walk-in closet in the master bedroom and roll-in shower.

The three buildings all are painted in coordinated greens with putty-hued and white trim, though they are all different.

"I think it turned out great," says Mike Breiholtz, owner of Medford's C & M Builders, about the multiyear project. "They are such a close family."

"This is the way people used to live, to help each other," says Rene Beavers. "It's peaceful here. And my brother goes to Pony Espresso every day for coffee and to the gym. He has his friends."

In summer, they entertain often in the yard, and every Christmas the rest of the family gathers at "The Compound."

"It's a lot of fun," says Roberta Rier.

Family pulls together in Jacksonville