Many humbling, inspiring lessons from big storm

It was 5 a.m., and it had been raining and thundering all night long.

Then in an instant, the house shook like it had been hit by a bolt of lightening, followed by an explosion.

Waking from a sound sleep, my wife and I rushed to the other side of the house, peering into our living room using our phones as flashlights because the power had gone out.

The room was gone, replaced with six 50 foot trees and a wet mixture of rocks, sand, and foliage from the hill behind us.

We tried to escape through our walkout but found it unsafe to exit. Worried of more destruction, my two boys, two dogs, wife and one cat escaped through a side window, leaving one cat, named Jersey, who had been sleeping in the living room unaccounted for.

Sitting in front of our house we called 911. Within minutes the Dollar Bay Volunteer Fire Department (DBFD) arrived, but could not reach us through impending road washouts on either side.

We threw all in the pontoon boat and escaped to Sandy Bottom Park in Dollar Bay through an ocean of debris on Portage Lake.

There Jake Stevens from the DBFD comforted us as Ronnie Kokkonen went to get his wife’s car so we could use it to get to our in-laws, a dry safe haven.

My wife inquired if Ronnie had told his wife we had her car, to which Ronnie responded “if she asks I’ll just reply, “You don’t remember? How many drinks did you have last night?”

That was some much-appreciated humor in a challenging situation!

The next day, an army of neighbors, led by the LeClair and Burns families and many of our son’s friends, helped us move many of our belongings to a dry storage unit in Dollar Bay owned by Tim Palosaari, which he was gracious enough to let us use.

Several days after that, Don Hill and the Dollar Bay basketball teams helped us move out the remainder of the contents, just as the county inspector condemned our home.

Gail Sanchez helped us find a home in Lake Linden to rent, allowing us to move in immediately helped by a caravan of volunteers and their trucks, cars, and optimistic good will. Their generosity was overwhelming!

My wife and I didn’t realize the magnitude of the event until we went shopping in Walmart for some necessities we had lost.

A two-minute visit turned into a 2-and-a-half-hour excursion. Each person we ran into offered their thoughts, prayers, and support.

But each also shared their own stories ranging from loss they had suffered to stories of those they had been helping through the clean up process.

We realized this event had touched each individual in one way or another. It was a community tragedy that was meet with a massive community response.

In the last few weeks my wife and I have been brought to tears numerous times, not from our loss but from the countless random acts of kindness that have been bestowed on our family by members of our community.

It has been extremely humbling and inspiring. We truly live in God’s country, a community that cares about each other and quickly acts in time of need.

And what of Jersey, our missing cat?

Three nights after the catastrophe we returned to our house. In calling for her, we heard a faint response from the bushes on the hill.

She showed herself briefly and disappeared into the woods.

She eats and drinks from a bowl of food and water each night we keep filled in our sauna, which survived the storm.

We are slowly earning back her trust. We are confident Jersey will return to us when we return to a new normal in a new place we can call home.

Steve Patchin is director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University.


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