One day while working at CalVet headquarters in Sacramento, Craig Hollis got a call from Rod Totton, a Marine veteran and longtime personal friend.
Totton expressed frustrations at his attempts to finance a home he wanted to buy in the Sacramento area. A foreclosure from more than a decade ago, along with some other issues, still lurked in his credit history and made a typical conventional home loan unattainable.
“When we were having this conversation, I was right by Gary Bonin’s office,” Hollis said. Bonin is a supervisor in the Home Loan division. With Totton still on the line, Hollis explained his friend’s plight to Bonin. Bonin told Hollis to connect Totton with loan originator Eric Myrdal.
“Eric put (Totton) on the right path to where they are now,” Hollis said.
And where might that be? Totton, his wife, and teen son moved into their new home in South Sacramento on April 18; thrilled to finally be grounded again following some troubled, tragic, and turbulent years. In a life of ups and downs, he’s thankful for the “up” that led him to CalVet and Myrdal
As he has done with so many other veterans who became clients, Myrdal helped Totton refocus and prioritize his finances so that he could get CalVet financing. He could do so because Totton – in 2018 – received a 100% service-connected disability rating, which provided the stable income that enabled him to qualify.
“The key for Rod is that CalVet is not tied into credit scores,” Myrdal said. “He didn’t have a lot of consumer debt. He had a service-related disability, and with that income, which is tax-free, and other supplemental income, CalVet could do the loan. CalVet is really well-positioned to do things other lenders won’t – (because of) the heavy lifting it takes.”
Without Myrdal’s help, Totton said, he could not have gotten the loan and the home.
“It was a trying process,” Totton said. “But you have to have resilience. You’ve got to go through it.”
Totton required resilience on the day he was born in Detroit, with a small hole in his heart. He required special care that his grandmother provided.
“My mom was young, my dad wasn’t there,” he said. “Nana said, ‘Give him to me.’ I was an angry kid who wanted to be raised by mom and dad. But God gave me a smile to brighten the day, and I’m thankful to have it.”
His mom and her new husband eventually moved west to Oakland to be closer to family. They eventually settled in the community of Guinda, northwest of Woodland. There, he became friends with Hollis, and as a sophomore quarterbacked Esparto High – a team he later would coach – into the playoffs for the first time in 16 years.
After high school, Totton returned to Detroit where he met his wife, Angel. Totton joined the Marine Corps and served two tours of duty in Iraq from 2004-2006. After returning from a seven-month deployment that included time in Baghdad, he was sent right back again just four months later. The second deployment extended into a full year.
“We were ‘volun-told,’” said Totton, who served on a regimental combat team.
His unit repelled numerous enemy assaults, relying on each other to make it home.
In 2007, Totton became head football coach at Esparto High, and set out to build the program by establishing a youth football program in town. He also owned a trucking business and bought a home in 2009. But migraines, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders had become a way of life. He fell asleep at the wheel, rolled his big rig. He suffered an aneurysm and found his life in a downward spiral. He could no longer work and lost their home to foreclosure in 2011. In 2015, Totten learned he had a traumatic brain injury.
“You think you’re in control,” Totton said. “But when abnormal is your normal, it’s different. I was losing jobs. I didn’t know what was going on inside me.”
Even more so when he and his wife lost two of their five sons in less than four years. One was murdered in 2017, the other was hit and killed in a pedestrian-car accident last September.
“We’ve buried two of our sons,” Totton said. “We know what tragedy is.”
He and his wife separated, and he was homeless for about two years. He’ll say without reservation that he experienced some very dark times. Totton received the help he needed from his faith and friends, and restored his marriage.
“God surrounded me with supportive people,” Totton said. Among them, a veterans service representative from the Contra Costa County Veterans Service Office helped him navigate the disability rating process, and gave him guidance and support. Totton received his 100% disability rating in 2018. It gave him the income needed to pay rent and establish a credit history that, in turn, enabled him to qualify for the CalVet home loan. When it closed, he surprised his wife.
“I bought her sunflowers and a plant,” Totton said. “I told her, ‘I want you to grow the plant at the nice, new home I just bought,’ and I flipped the papers onto the bed. It was a great moment.”
As Totton dealt with his disability, he discovered that playing golf – being out in the fresh air and calm – provided better therapy than anything the doctors had ordered.
“The game of golf helped me understand the ability to continue,” Totton said. “It’s a journey with a golf ball. It doesn’t always go where you want it to go. You hit into trouble. What do you do next? You still have to get to the ball and get the last shot out of your mind. It is a way to have a process of control.”
“He uses golf as a metaphor,” Myrdal said. “He teaches respect and patience and etiquette. He’s really (a) sincere, positive guy.”
And, with the help of a good friend who happened to be in the right place at the right time, Totton is another CalVet Home Loans success story.
For more information on obtaining a CalVet home loan, visit www.calvet.ca.gov/calvet-programs/home-loans or call us directly during regular business hours at (866) 653-2510. We are happy to help.