FOXBOROUGH — For months it has looked like John Hazeldine was going to lose the small red bungalow at 27 Spring St. that has been the hub of his world for all of his 62 years. After a pair of strokes in 2008 ended his municipal career, Hazeldine, the town’s former animal control officer, and his wife, Julienne, fell behind on their payments on the $63,000 they owed until a bank finally foreclosed on their mortgage last fall.
Recently, friends and strangers alike have rallied around the quiet couple, contributing what they could. A $42,000-plus rainy day fund has been amassed to perhaps make it possible for the Hazeldines to buy back the house that his grandparents built along the CSX train tracks in 1926 with wood from land they owned across the street.
The couple’s plight puts a local face on a problem that has crippled thousands of Massachusetts families, perpetuated by an enduringly sluggish economy, high unemployment, and, in the case of the Hazeldines, unexpected illness.
“It can happen anywhere,’’ Hazeldine said recently. “No one wants to lose their house.’’
According to the Warren Group, which publishes Banker & Tradesman, the number of completed foreclosures in Massachusetts dropped by almost 13 percent in 2012 to 7,424, down from 8,531 in 2011.
The number of foreclosure petitions, however, rose more than 35 percent, to 17,152 last year from 12,634 in 2011, officials said, an indicator that the struggle to hang on to homes for many — once default occurs — is a very real dilemma.
Still, Warren Group chief executive officer Timothy M. Warren Jr. said in a statement, “Foreclosure activity nationwide is declining, and Massachusetts is following the same path” — giving hope that some families are finding solutions and help, like the Hazeldines.
What stands out in the Hazeldines’ case is how members of the Foxborough community have come together for one of their own. A disabled veteran who doesn’t know the family, for example, sent a check for $4,000 and a letter urging the town to step up in a former longtime employee’s time of need.
On a second stay of eviction, the Hazeldines had until March 15 to qualify for financing to buy back the house assessed at $200,000 and purchased at auction at a discounted price of $85,000 by Direct Federal Credit Union of Needham. Last week, the couple met with Boston Community Capital, a bank that buys foreclosed homes from lenders that purchase them at short sales and works with owners to help them buy back the properties. The Hazeldines met with negotiator Deborah Dennis, handed her a check for $5,000 from the community fund, and hope to be able to close on a mortgage loan by the end of the month.
“Things haven’t been finalized yet,’’ said Dennis, who declined to name the new purchase price. “But I can say the credit union has been cooperative. “
Dennis said Boston Community Capital has helped 300 clients save their homes since 2009 but none of the cases have been as high profile as this one.
“This is the first I’ve seen that had such support,’’ she said.
Friends and strangers had sought intervention from state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who referred the case to Dennis’s organization, as well as to US Senator Elizabeth Warren, among others, to help stop the clock.
Foxborough resident Bill Milhomme, who attended first and second grades with Hazeldine, got the ball rolling because he said he felt a need to help a fellow member of the class of ’68.
‘No one wants to lose their house.’
The fact is, 39 Foxborough families have lost, or are losing, their homes to foreclosure, Milhomme said, including his former next-door neighbor on Lakeview Road. Seeing workers from the foreclosing bank toss that family’s leftover belongings out into the yard after they had moved into an apartment was horrifying and life-changing, Milhomme said.
As was the fact that his own wife’s bills for more than $300,000 of breast cancer treatments could have bankrupted the family had they not had insurance, he said.
Milhomme asked his 500 Facebook friends to help spread the word, and before long a page dedicated to the fund-raising effort had 1,190-plus members. Donations, large and small, began to pour in, including $2,000 from an anonymous former classmate now in Namibia.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,’’ Milhomme said of the grass-roots effort to help the Hazeldines. “But we are a close class, and we are a close community. Even though we may not see each other, we went through 12 years of school together, and John was our classmate.”
Hazeldine was emotional as he expressed his gratitude for the community effort. He shared how much the small family homestead means to him and the generations of relatives before him.
He said Hungry Hill, the nickname for the area around his neighborhood, carries a certain irony, considering his grandmother Lilian Turner was known for serving hot meals on the picnic table out back to hobos who walked the rail line.
The house is not fancy, he said, but it’s where he and his wife raised their only son, John Jr., now 33.
“Look around,’’ he said, in the dwelling with its dark, wooden hand-hewn beams. There are stacks of bibles he has collected, ceramic milk jugs and bowls on a low shelf, and a built-in desk in the living room and ironing board closet in the kitchen, both examples of solid craftsmanship, he said.
“This is home,’’ said Hazeldine. “Nothing has really changed since 1926 except we painted over the wallpaper.”
Hazeldine moved about slowly, cradling a left arm paralyzed by one of the strokes and favoring his left leg. He beamed when he recalled his retired Standardbred horse named No D, a former harness racer in Foxborough he has already sent to a new home, along with the dozen hens that provided eggs every morning, because of the expected eviction.
Giving up the animals was heartbreaking. “That horse was my life,’’ Hazeldine said, shaking his head. “It’s overwhelming when you feel there is a price on your head.”
All that remains of the menagerie is a trio of pet birds that are caged in the kitchen.
Like Milhomme, Hazeldine is a religious man who counts the graces he has received. It is the belief in a higher power that gets him through, he said, thrilled that the home may be saved.
“It is good to know that there are people out there that do care,’’ he said. “I can feel the hand of God waving over me.”
For more information about the Hazeldines’ situation, visit Milhomme’s Facebook page, “Save John and Julienne Hazeldine From Home Eviction.”Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.