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Community lessens the pain

There have been few times in my life where sports haven’t mattered.

Ever since Sunday, I could care less if the Orioles lost or the Colts traded Peyton Manning to the Bears. Heck, my alma mater won their second straight College World Series title on Sunday and I didn’t watch a pitch.

The Angora fire has changed many of our lives forever and the quicker we get past the depression stage of recovery, then life can become enjoyable again.



For my family and I, the recovery time from losing our home of 16 years has been hastened by the a generous outpouring of affection from our community. For us, that healing started on Monday morning at the Recreation Center when a spirited crew of recreation and Red Cross personnel combined to provide us with food, clothing and some kind words. Because our family was forced to evacuate our home so quickly, there wasn’t time to gather any clothes or food.

While sipping a coffee that I hoped would clear my head, I was told that former Mayor Brooke Oliveras-Laine knew of a second home owner whose house was empty on her street. We quickly phoned her and were given the OK by a Bay Area couple – Jesse and Linda Gomez – to stay in the three-bedroom dwelling. That the Gomezes did this without meeting us made it an incredible gesture.



When I arrived to work late Monday afternoon I saw community members bringing in donations for victims by the truckload. Publisher Gail Powell-Acosta made certain that I left with a carload of things that night by loading most of it herself, helping my family return to some type of normalcy. In fact, she didn’t let up all week, taking my car keys from time to time to pack things in my vehicle.

Whittell coach Don Amaral called to learn about the status of the Babe Ruth playoffs while being treated in the hospital. He soon offered use of his motor home if I needed it. Friends and other residents have offered use of their own homes and informed us of the availability of others. Their generosity won’t be forgotten.

Before leaving that night, I was stirred by the kind thoughts and concerns that I discovered on my e-mail account. I heard from townspeople, a former boss and a college roommate who I hadn’t heard from in more than a decade.

One such e-mail came from John Stearns, a former managing editor of the Tribune who I worked with in the early 1990s.

“The pain of the loss you’re feeling must be overwhelming. I just wanted to drop a line to let you know that I’m thinking about you and your family and I hope recovery through insurance, etc., happens as quickly as possible,” wrote Stearns.

“Words seem empty at a time like this, but I just wanted to let you know you’ve got people out there who care about you and wish you the best during this difficult ordeal.”

As the week wore on, some people may have seen our family on CBS and NBC. It was important for me to answer every interview request since I have sought interviews from people when they were in moments of despair. We also wanted to help get the word out to the rest of the country, including the president, that Lake Tahoe residents were facing a terrible ordeal. My wife and I agreed that talking about our misfortune was cathartic.

Our spirits, however, plunged when attending a meeting of catastrophe victims on Tuesday morning at the college. It was tough seeing all of the sad faces, some of them who I knew very well.

But there was reason to rejoice a few hours later when we headed up to our former home on Cone Road. While being evacuated from our home on Sunday afternoon, our family cat for the past 13 years was left behind.

Although we knew our home was completely destroyed by the fire before visiting the site, we held out hope that our cat remained alive because she has survived in a wooded area ruled by coyotes and owls for years. After calling her name a few times, we noticed a noise from the base of our chimney. Sure enough, our cat was holed up inside, weak from smoke inhalation and dehydration. She was also reluctant to move as her paws had suffered second-degree burns. My wife, Jean, coaxed her out with a can of cat food and then we headed to the Sierra Veterinary Hospital next to the Tribune.

The vet treated our cat for free, doing their part to return one of the early pet survivors to health and then Noah’s Wash helped us with the variety of things that we needed to care for our cat and dog.

Later on that day, my new neighbor George stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood and generously gave us a grocery shopping certificate.

On Wednesday my boys were touched by the kindness of Swift Communications Chief Executive Officer Arne Hoel, former STHS basketball Derek Allister and the Baumann family. They were able to replace some of the things lost in the fire, helping the boys return to some of their regular activities.

As the week nears an end, the compassion of community members continues to touch us. Peter Grant, my wife’s employer, and Terri Thomas, a former Tribune employee, have made generous contributions to our family and Ken Curtzwiler is planning a July 9 bash to help raise money for the homeless.

People have asked if we will rebuild our home. After all of the kind acts toward our family this past week, there is no other place in the world we’d rather live.

– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or syingling@tahoedailytribune.com.


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