After wintering in south Florida for years, Betty Meredith wanted to bring a piece of the tropical paradise home to Streator.
Some may have opted for a conch shell, or a jar filled with Florida sand.
Meredith had bigger aspirations.
Her house on the corner of Lee and Park streets in Streator, known simply as "the blue house," is her Florida souvenir – or more accurately, her saving grace.
Nearly everything from the house itself to items in the yard and around the pool are colored blue.
What the many who pass it regularly may not know is the correlation between the color scheme and the owner's fight against cancer.
“The story of this house is one of me, the Blessed Virgin Mary and cancer,” Meredith said.
She recalls lying in bed nearly 30 years ago with her late husband, Bob, while they were living in Dallas, when she sat up to notice someone else in the room; Meredith said that someone was the Virgin Mary.
“She was wearing a gunny sack and had a gold halo around her head,” Meredith said. “She gave me a heavenly smile before she disappeared and I laid back down and fell asleep.”
Two weeks later, a trip to the doctor showed Meredith had cancer in her left breast — the first of three fights she has had with the disease.
The mobile home isn’t at its original location: Betty and Bob lived in Kangley for years before they passed the Lee Street lot on their way to traveling to Florida.
“I saw it and how it dipped into the ground like that and told Bob that I wanted it,” Meredith said. “He never could say no to me. We started fixing (the house) up and at first we wanted to go with red. Once we got the pool in and I saw the blue color that he painted it, I knew I just wanted the whole thing to be painted blue.”
Working on the house was a coping mechanism for Meredith. Keeping up with the constant renovation was how she kept her mind off of her fight with cancer and its potential to return. The cancer returned three times, but she has been cancer-free for years.
“What’s funny is that I was never the sort to work outside,” Meredith said. “I was a housewife. We had two daughters and I spent most of my time taking care of them. Once I started working outside, I got to liking it.”
Meredith modeled the home’s decorations after a Florida home she spent her winters in for years.
“I love the water and the ocean; this pool is my own little piece of that,” Meredith said. “I never really wanted to leave (Florida) but I also didn’t want to leave home.”
Meredith brought the south Florida coast back to Streator with her. The area surrounding the swimming pool looks like it belongs on the deck of a beachfront property, as do the trees lining the road to the north.
“I babied those trees,” Meredith said. “They reminded me so much of Florida and getting them to grow to where they are now wasn’t easy.”
Meredith said she’s used to being a bit of an attraction for people driving south on Park Street, which also is Route 23.
“I have people stop by and ask to take pictures all the time,” Meredith said. “I even had a couple semis stop and ask about all the blue, but I don’t do this for them. I do this for me. I do this to keep my mind off of the cancer.”
Meredith’s favorite decoration on the lot means more to her than everything else there: A 5-foot-tall statue of Mary graces the northeast corner in a rock garden, her clothes painted the same blue as the rest of the house.
The statue's place in the rock garden is a relatively new home for her. During the 2010 Streator tornado, one of Meredith’s neighbors had a roof that fell into the southwest corner of the lot, the statue's former home, potentially crushing it and damaging some of the property.
The Virgin Mary came out without a scratch.
“When I was recovering from my surgery, my eyes would go straight to the small gold statue that I had in my bedroom,” Meredith said. “She has always been there for me. Every single time. I really believe she came to me because she knew what I was going through and she knew I’d need the strength to go through (cancer) three times.”