Friends, neighbors cushion a tough week for Bend woman
Published: June 10, 2002
By Jenny Slater
Before Jan Wilson-Sheppherd left her Bend home for a six-week stay in northeast Ohio, she sifted through her life's memories, collected in 15 photo albums and stuffed boxes.
She took about 40 photographs to use in a collage for her 83-year-old father. Months ago, her dad was dying of brain cancer. Even before she left Central Oregon, she knew he wanted visual memories at his funeral. On Sunday, Wilson-Sheppherd returned to her home, just one week after saying good-bye to her dad.
And now those photographs are some of the only documented memories of her family that she has left. While she was gone, her house in Tillicum Village in east Bend burned to the ground, causing at least $320,000 in damage.
She came home Sunday to an empty driveway and a concrete foundation.
In bittersweet moods, Wilson-Sheppherd's friends and neighbors gathered at her former house to welcome her back. They waited with flowers and balloons to surprise her as she arrived from the airport.
Central Oregon Community College's woodwind quintet played musical arrangements by Mozart, and about 30 people gathered, drinking soda and water.
In one week, her friends from the Cascade Wind Symphonic Band, her fellow church members from the Baha'i Faith community and her neighbors rallied to clean up the charred remains of her home from melted telephones to her grandmother's 1914 wedding portrait so she wouldn't have to confront the devastation. About 30 people donated their energy and time, using chain saws and huge trash bins to clean up the property. Neighbors stored what was salvaged in their garage.
"It was absolutely indescribable," said Lynn Lakin, a close family friend of Wilson-Sheppherd. "The walls were gone, and there was just a fireplace and mounds of rubble."
Lakin helped take photos of the burned home and sent them to her friend through the help of the Internet. Also a Mary Kay representative, Lakin said she ordered extra goodies for Wilson-Sheppherd to make the transition of rebuilding her day-to-day life a bit easier.
"This is so much better now," Lakin said. "She can start anew. She's always been there for me, so I'm going to be there for her."
After she arrived, Wilson-Sheppherd hugged everyone, smiling at the loss of her 17-year-old house.
"There's my front entry way," she said, pointing to broken brown tiles in the middle of the concrete. "I lost stuff that's it."
The fire probably started from an ember in the wood stove, said Wilson-Sheppherd's husband, Joseph Sheppherd, who was the only one home when the flames erupted during the early morning hours on May 19. Sheppherd was uninjured, and escaped the fire with nothing but a pair of pants to call the fire department from his neighbor's house.
"I woke up because the room was orange," he said. "I couldn't understand why it was orange."
The couple lost at least 14,000 books and an online book company to the flames, which engulfed the roof by the time firefighters arrived. Sheppherd lost his dissertation and 15 unpublished books he'd written, along with his own artwork.
But when Sheppherd called his wife on the morning of the fire, he said she just laughed, and made no plans to come home because she had to be with her dad.
"It was a real revelation of character," he said. "She's a wonderful person to know."
Sunday's collection of various friends and efforts is a true illustration of what the Baha'i Faith is all about, said Jerry Henrikson, a fellow church member.
"The Baha'i Faith is about community and unity and creating community," he said. "I think everybody wants to be supportive to help everybody with their trials."
Plans are in the works to rebuild their home on the same exact site where it once stood, said Wilson-Sheppherd, who said it's like her life is starting all over again.
The couple will watch the house be built from an empty house they've rented across from their own back yard. And new memories will continue to be created there.
"I don't even mind that the house burned down," Wilson-Sheppherd said. "Your memories and your family, those are the important things."
Jenny Slater can be reached at 541-504-2336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Copyright 2002, The Bulletin (Bend, Oregon)