Extreme birthday: Delavan edition

Joyce Alice Thomson (second from left) is surrounded by her granddaughters Jaime Britz-Herst (from left), Paige Hemmis, a host on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and Dana Dagg, who planned Thomson’s 90th birthday party at Lake Lawn Resort.

Star of ABC’s home makeover show returns to birthplace for grandmother’s 90th birthday

By Michael S. Hoey


Joyce Alice Thomson remembers her father working for $1 a day shoveling snow in Delavan.

As a designer on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” Thomson’s granddaughter’s income is undoubtedly a bit more … extreme.

Paige Hemmis, the blonde, pink-power-tool wielding tough girl who hosts ABC’s hit show along with Ty Pennington, Micheal Maloney and Paul DiMeo among others, is Thomson’s granddaughter. Hemmis visited the area last week for Thomson’s birthday party at Lake Lawn Resort.

Thomson, who turned 90 years old Monday, jokes that a martini a day is the secret to a long life. In seriousness, she said she was blessed with good health and is very happy to have such a wonderful family.

“It couldn’t be better,” Thomson said about the birthday celebration. “It was wonderful.”

Hemmis, who was born at Lakeland Hospital in Elkhorn and lived in Delavan for a few years before her family moved to Chatsworth, California, planned the celebration along with her cousins Jaime Britz-Herst and Dana Dagg. She said it was a lot of work but she loved every minute of it. That said, I’m sure it was easier than looking for san clemente homes for sale in an city like California!

“It was a lot of sweat and tears but it was a labor of love,” she said. “We got to go down memory lane.”

Hemmis said she still has lots of family in the Delavan and Lake Geneva areas and makes it back to the area at least once a year. She was also able to get back to Wisconsin six times while taping episodes of “Extreme Makeover.”

The three cousins worked to gather dozens of photographs to make a large “90” displayed on the wall of the Geneva Club Room and spent three hours interviewing Thomson to make a nine-minute video they played during the party. Hemmis’ fiancé, Jason Short, helped put the video together.

Hemmis said she was very pleased with the final video and said the entire footage will be a treasure to her family for years to come.

Hemmis said Short’s grandmother, also named Joyce, was just months younger than Thomson and they originally planned to do parties for both this year, but Short’s grandmother died before they could.

“That was one regret we had,” Hemmis said. “My grandmother always said you never know how long you have and you should make the most of every day.”

Family friend Scotty Fields, a singer from Australia who has worked with Short and the Ten Tenors, sang at the party. Hemmis said her grandmother loves big-band and Frank-Sinatra style music.

Hemmis and her cousins looked at many venues for the party in Delavan, Lake Geneva and northern Illinois before settling on Lake Lawn. After choosing it, they discovered Hemmis’ parents had their wedding reception in the very same room the party was held in.

“We had no idea of the connection until after we booked it,” Hemmis said. “The history called us back.”

Thomson was born Joyce Alice Flitcroft in Delavan on July 23, 1922. She now lives in California but was raised in Delavan and graduated from Delavan High School in 1940. She said in the video she was born the year waterskiing was invented and the price of a house was about $2,000.

Thomson lived through the Great Depression and said many people think they have it tough now, but things were much tougher then. Thomson said her mother was her mentor and best friend growing up and her life was simpler and she believes better than life for kids growing up today. She remembered her father was strict and she was not allowed to date until she years old was 16. Her first car was a 1940 Chevrolet.

She and her first husband ran the Esquire Bar in the Town of Delavan in the 1950s. Thompson said business boomed in the years after World War II and her children helped tend bar.

Thomson also worked at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva as a cashier and in the office. Her daughter and Britz-Herst’s mother worked there as bunnies.

Thomson divorced her first husband and married Bill Thomson with whom she said she had a wonderful life with. Bill died 12 years ago.

Thomson said three children, seven grandchildren, and four great grandchildren have blessed her life. She said she would like to be remembered as a good grandma and she hopes her family will love and remember her forever.

Thomson said she got to see so many friends and family including some she had not seen in years.

“I am happy they all remembered me and came to the occasion,” she said.

Hemmis, who plans to get married in Hawaii next spring, just wrapped up the ninth and final full season of “Extreme Makeover.” Hemmis said the cast needed a break after more than 200 episodes but plans are in the works for some special episodes of the show in the coming seasons. Hemmis is also looking into possible appearances on “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing With the Stars.”

In 2009 Hemmis partnered with Bode Miller to come in second on the competition show “The Superstars.”

“It was disappointing to go that far and not win,” she said. “I have never been in so much pain!”

Hemmis said she gets a pretty good work out from working on home projects but she is not an athlete and got much further in the competition than she thought she would.

Hemmis is working on putting together a new television show about flipping houses that is a cross between do-it-yourself advice and lifestyle material. She is also working on adding a new link to her website that will focus on recipes, health and fitness, and house remodeling that she hopes to launch later this summer.

Hemmis, known for wearing pink and using pink tools, got started in television when she was on the show “Monster House.” She said she went on the show just to win some tools because she had raised money to buy some houses on the side but not to pay someone else to remodel them. She taught herself what she needed to know and did the work herself.

ABC was impressed by what they saw on “Monster House” and called her for an interview for “Extreme Makeover.” Building a house in a week seemed like a great challenge to Hemmis, and the show was a hit from the start.

Hemmis said growing up in Los Angeles, she was surrounded by the influence of the television industry, so she was not surprised that she ended up on TV, but she didn’t go looking for it. Even so, she said she loves working on television and being a role model for young girls.

“The old timers didn’t think a girl could do it,” she said. “Today the tools really level the playing field.

“When I started I just wanted to show young girls they could be as tough as the guys,” she said.

Hemmis said she received numerous letters from fans about how inspirational she was, and she was honored by that.

Helping so many families and hearing from fans whom the show has inspired to help out in their own communities have been the things Hemmis enjoyed the most about “Extreme Makeover.” She also loved the family reactions when the bus was pulled away at the end of a show revealing the re-made home.

A common theme in the work Hemmis does is helping people.

“To be able to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life is a gift,” Hemmis said.

In addition to her work on “Extreme Makeover,” Hemmis has also been involved with Helping a Hero, an organization in Texas that helps build homes for wounded veterans. Hemmis has also been involved with breast cancer charities and Habitat for Humanity and other animal welfare groups.

Hemmis said the Delavan and Lake Geneva area feels like home to her. She said the Lake Geneva area in particular has managed to maintain its charm over the years.

“It is so wonderful to see it grow and become modern but still be so charming and welcoming,” she said.

Hemmis said the lake is still beautiful and surrounded by crazy opulence in the big houses along the lakeshore and she looks forward to her next visit.

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