Habitat breaks ground on new build in Emden for family of holiday fire loss

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[June 28, 2017]   LINCOLN - When a family earns the right to have a home built by Habitat for Humanity, it is a very special event for them and the organization. When it happens to a young family who had a home and lost it to a tragic fire, it becomes an opportunity for a community to come together, pool resources, and show that family their love by helping them get into the Habitat program.

On Sunday afternoon, Habitat for Humanity of Logan County, the community of Emden, and friends and family of Lucas and Alecia Sutton celebrated that love and support through a groundbreaking ceremony on what in a few short months will be a new home for the Sutton Family.

The Sutton family home need story began on December 14th, 2016 when their home, located in the country between Hartsburg and Emden was destroyed by fire. Eleven days before Christmas, the family lost their home and all their possessions. It was a difficult time for the couple with their three young children, but it opened a door for the Hartsburg-Emden community, local churches, and local businessmen to come together and find a way for the family to remain a part of their community.

Kent Cross

Before delivering his portion of the official groundbreaking ceremony, Kent Cross of the First Bank of Emden explained the chain of events that led to this day.

Cross said he did not know the Sutton family until one night at about 11 p.m. he was out and about and saw the house on fire. Following that devastating event he noted the outpouring of community support for the family. Fundraising began immediately to assist the family, and an account was opened at his bank for donations.

Then, one day, Cross was driving to Lincoln and listening to the radio. He heard Leonard Krusemark talking about Habitat for Humanity. As it happened, the next day, Krusemark was in the bank and Cross approached him to find out if the Suttons might qualify for assistance through Habitat. Krusemark then got involved and found that the family did meet the criteria, but before the home could be built, a site would have to be found. Cross said he told Krusemark that he could help with that.

Cross planned to make a few calls, and find someone who would be able to help. He said as it turned out, he made a lot of phone calls, but nothing seemed to work out. Cross said that there came a day when the Hartsburg mayor visited the bank and Cross reached out to him as well. At that point, Cross said the important part was to keep the family within the Hartsburg-Emden community, so Cross asked the mayor to keep an eye open for opportunities in Hartsburg as well.

Cross said that same day, he was driving out of Emden, and as he looked across the way, he noted a run-down house located on Main Street. It was a bad house, with no good future. He said, “I knew what a disaster it was for everybody. I thought to myself ‘I should call Ron and see what his feelings would be about getting rid of that house.’ And I kid you not, I had never spoken to him about it, but I went out and worked for an hour, and when I came back in there was a voicemail on my phone from his son Rick saying ‘hey, why don’t you buy that house from my dad.”

As a side bar Cross said he does buy and fix up homes on occasion, but for this house, that was not what he had in mind. He told the son no, but that he still believed something could be worked out. He went on to say that this was a story where everything fell into place. He said folks talk about devine intervention, and this could have been just that.

The final result was once a property was located, it had to be purchased. The derelict home belonged to Ron Schleder and was purchased for the Suttons by members of the Emden community.

Tonita Reifsteck

Of course, as was mentioned during the service, and also before by leader for the day, Tonita Reifsteck, the home is not a gift or a handout. The family needed to fulfill the requirements of Habitat for Humanity before they could qualify for the home. Reifsteck said the couple really hustled to meet those requirements as quickly as possible. They achieved that goal three weeks ago.

When construction is completed, they will have house payments to make.

The property was purchased, the old house was torn down, and foundation work began immediately on the new house.

For the community bringing the Suttons back to Emden is a big win. Cross noted as he spoke that the Hartsburg-Emden School District would benefit from the family staying in the area, and it is good for the Emden community to see development and also to maintain its population.

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From left to right; Emden Mayor Mike Kavanaugh, Pastor Chris Bivens, and Leonard Krusemark

During the ceremony, others were called on to address the crowd including Pastor Chris Bivens of the Emden Christian Church who read scripture to illustrate that God’s hand has been in this situation from the beginning and that the family is now a part of the community and church family and are loved by all. He told the Suttons that the Church in Emden loves them as do other churches in the area. Later in the day, Reifsteck would report that the Hartsburg United Methodist Church had donated $5,000 to the building project, and it was greatly appreciated.

Family mentor Jodi Trussel

Also speaking at the service was the Emden Mayor Mike Kavanaugh, Leonard Krusemark, and the family mentor Jodi Trussel.

Lucas and Alecia Sutton

When the family came forward to break ground on their home, Lucas spoke. He talked about how grateful the family was to have been the recipients of so much love and kindness during this past six months. He was stunned by the turn of events for the family and said that he felt the odds had been “one-in-a-million” that his family would have the opportunity that is before them right now.

Lucas and Alecia Sutton have four children, Kaydence, Leah, Lucas Jr. and eleven-day-old Oliver. The couple is from Hartsburg and is happy that they will be able to continue raising their family in a close-knit community that includes having the kids go to the same schools they went to in the Hartsburg-Emden School District.

Lucas is a veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq. Alecia, though on maternity leave at the moment, is employed at Castle Manor.

Within the Habitat organization, there are several talented people who work on each home build, but more volunteers are always needed. At the end of the ceremony, Reifsteck invited all members of the community to come out and lend a hand when they were available. She said that volunteers were always welcomed, and their efforts would be greatly appreciated by Habitat and the Sutton family.

For the Habitat for Humanity of Logan County, this is the 23rd home to be built, and the first home ever to be constructed in Emden. The construction leaders for the project will be Mark Coers and Larry Zumwalt. Anyone wishing to assist with this project can get more information about the construction schedule by contacting Habitat for Humanity of Logan County, phone 217-732-6412 or visit the website hfh@habitatlogan.org.

[Nila Smith]

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