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Community helps family displaced by house fire

Community helps family displaced by house fire
Community helps family displaced by house fire
Firefighters from Elizabeth and New Middletown Volunteer Fire departments work to contain a house fire late Thursday afternoon at the home of Rick and Roberta Rhodes near Elizabeth. On Sunday, members of the community surprised the couple, below, with a mobile home, money and other needed items. (Photos by Lee Cable)

Rick Rhodes hadn’t been gone long last Thursday afternoon. He had just gone to town to run some errands, and when he returned home, his world turned upside down.
Everything seemed fine as he pulled into the driveway of his home off Glass Overlook Road near Elizabeth. He got out of his vehicle and walked up to the house. The rest is almost a blur to him.
As he opened the door, a flash of fire, smoke and hot air knocked him backward. He doesn’t really remember screaming for help, but his neighbors remember hearing it.
‘My son was working in our building below our house,’ said Loretta Bartley, who lives next door to the Rhodeses. ‘He saw some smoke but thought someone was burning trash. A few minutes later, he saw a lot of smoke, and it was coming from the rear of the Rhodes’ house. He jumped on a four-wheeler, raced up to the house and yelled for me to call 911.’
Bartley’s husband, Larry, heard Rhodes scream and ran to help. He fell, cutting his hand, but got up and continued to run toward the burning house, thinking that Roberta, Rick’s wife, was inside. Luckily, she wasn’t. A couple of minutes later, the whole house was engulfed in flames.
The Elizabeth Volunteer Fire Dept. was on the scene in minutes, even though the house was several miles from town. The New Middletown Volunteer Fire Dept. was also there minutes later. But the house was too far gone. They could do nothing to save it, and focused on keeping the fire from spreading.
Roberta, a counselor for people dealing with gambling addiction, was attending a conference in Lexington, Ky., at the time.
‘Someone contacted my manager about the fire,’ Roberta said. ‘My manager then came to me and told me what had happened. Thank God I was gone.’
The Rhodeses lost everything they had except the clothes on their backs. And their pastoral property, surrounded by a wooden fence, had a large black spot in the middle of it ‘ where their home used to be.
The Rhodeses, quiet people who kept rescued animals including several horses on their little farm, had lived there about 12 years but knew very few people in the Elizabeth area. But that didn’t matter, they were still considered part of the community ‘ and the community always helps its own.
The next day, Artie Lillpop located a mobile home that Earl (Duke) Langsdon had for sale and worked out a deal. Plans were laid out, phone calls were made to alert everyone and, off Sunday, they hooked Jeff Miller’s tractor to the mobile home on O’Bannon Road. About 30 minutes later, the Rhodeses, who had been staying with their neighbors, the Bartleys, saw the mobile home and a large group of men coming up the driveway.
Lillpop brought his backhoe and dug out an access to the septic tank. Jeff Shaffer from Shaffer Plumbing was there to hook up the septic lines and water to the mobile home. Scott and Jake Blackman brought their Bobcat to help. Ferrellgas showed up with a tank ‘ donating it and a tank of gas ‘ and helped get the lines hooked up for a furnace. Someone brought cement blocks to help level the mobile home, and people kept coming up the driveway to help out.
Mike Phillips and Larry Mutchler were there. Russell Williams, Harlett Noon, Scott Needler, Will Hildebrand, Kenny Martin, Greg Soots, George Stofel, Steve Wilfong, Lance Dunbar, Doug Thomas, Andy Withers and Keith Sallee all showed up. And the Millers ‘ Bill, Doug and Jeff ‘ were there also, as well as Butch Knear, Phil Shaffer, Jerry and Linda King and Andy Razor.
Within three hours, the Rhodeses had a roof over their heads.
Harrison REMC came, set up a meter and got the electricity going, without even being asked. The Elizabeth Lions Club donated $500. The Laconia Lions Club added another check. Martha Davis brought $196 from her church. People dropped by Elizabeth Auto Parts with $140 in donations. The American Legion added another $200. Donna Withers and Juanita Miller helped gather silverware, cooking utensils and other kitchen needs. Much-needed clothing has been donated as well as bedding and even hay for their animals.
‘My job is helping people,’ said Roberta. ‘I’ve always been independent and have a hard time accepting help. But I’ve learned to accept it now. We didn’t know these people, yet they’ve been so good to us. I never expected all of this.’
‘They’ve been staying with us since the fire,’ said Loretta Bartley. ‘They didn’t know what they were going to do. But the people of Elizabeth and God will help them through this.’