Mitchell neighborhood rallies around Kirkpatrick family to help overcome house fire

Sam Fosness, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
·6 min read

Apr. 16—It's been a tough winter for the Kirkpatrick family, but they are getting by with a little from their neighborhood friends.

In late February, the Mitchell family was displaced from their East Fifth Avenue home that was destroyed by a house fire. While the home they've spent the past four years making memories in is gone, the Kirkpatricks' neighbors are lifting their spirits in ways the family never imagined.

After the devastating fire took the family's home, they were considering moving out of their neighborhood and into a different house in Mitchell. But their neighbors, who say the Kirkpatrick family is the "bedrock" of the neighborhood, stopped at nothing to keep the family around. They're succeeding.

"Our neighborhood is why we are staying and building a new home right here," said Ryan Kirkpatrick, as he watched the demolition crews tear his house down to make way for a new chapter. "This is a great neighborhood, and we all have each other's backs. That's not easy to find."

Mercedes Lautenschlager is among the many neighbors who hoped the Kirkpatrick family would stay and rebuild. After all, she didn't want to lose neighbors who she dubs as some of the "most generous people" in the community.

From shoveling their neighbors sidewalks to opening their inflatable playground for the kids in the area, Lautenschlager said the Kirkpatricks would "do anything" for their neighbors. It was one of many reasons she hoped to see the family build a new home on the corner of East Fifth Avenue and Mentzer Street.

"They are the most generous people. One day this year when we had a huge snowstorm, and we saw April (Kirkpatrick) outside shoveling our sidewalk," Lautenschlager said. "We have such a great little neighborhood, and they are such a vital part of that."

Lautenschlager and her husband, Ethan, knew there would be a big void in the neighborhood if the Kirkpatricks left. With two young children, the Lautenschlagers' oldest daughter was just as worried about the Kirkpatricks leaving the neighborhood as her parents.

"When we found out there was a fire that burned their house, my daughter was immediately so worried they were going to have to move. They've opened up their house to my daughter so much. They are like the neighborhood hangout house," Lautenschlager said of the Kirkpatricks.

Kirkpatrick was in the home with his youngest son at the time of the fire, while his wife, April Kirkpatrick was at work.

After making it out of the home, Ryan's phone started ringing every other minute when the fire began destroying the structure. He was receiving calls from neighbors who he barely knew, asking if they were safe. In the midst of the panic and worry, Ryan said the outpouring of phone calls helped him realize how much his family meant to the neighborhood.

"When one of my neighbors heard the house was on fire, he literally shut his own business down and called to offer any help I need," Kirkpatrick said. "Some neighbors who I barely even know reached out to offer any help as well. That's when I started thinking we can't leave."

Starting a new chapter in the neighborhood

With the rising costs of building material such as lumber and steel, building a new house wasn't going to be a cheap endeavor for the Kirkpatricks. But so, too, did his neighbors and coworkers. That's when Ryan's boss, Cory Cumings, owner of Mitchell Roofing and Siding, stepped in to help the family take on the costs of building a new home on East Fifth Avenue.

Immediately after the blaze destroyed the home, Cumings set up a GoFundMe page online that promised he would match $10,000 when donations reached that amount. In less than a week, people raised the $10,000 needed for Cumings to match it, providing the family with a $20,000 boost for rebuilding their home.

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"I get emotional thinking about all the people in the community who donated to help us get this house built," Kirkpatrick said, noting he's utilizing local companies to build the soon to be new ranch style home.

In the time the family lived in the home, Ryan poured a lot of time into remodels. Although the fire caused enough damage that made it unrepairable, there were still some parts of the home that were intact like the oakwood trim and brick siding.

The Kirkpatricks' generosity was on display once again, as they sent all of the salvageable building material left on the house to friends and family. One of the friends who the Kirkpatricks donated some of the building materials from the old house was Steve Willis.

Willis resided in the home for 26 years before selling it to the Kirkpatricks a little over three years ago. With all the fond memories Willis made in the home that dates back to 1908, he collected several items from the wreckage to save a piece of his family history.

"I have so many great memories in that house, and I raised five kids out of that house. My wife's family also had it since 1966," said Willis, who now resides in a home near Lake Mitchell. "By being able to get my hands on some of the stuff from that house means so much to me. Although it was torn down, it will keep the memories alive forever."

As a retired firefighter who spent several decades with the Mitchell Fire Division, Willis has battled many fires through the years. But never has it hit this close to home, he said.

With a heavy heart, Willis watched the demolition crews on Wednesday tear down the house that's the source of his family's history. Although a new house will soon sit on the corner of East Fifth Avenue and Mentzer Street, Willis is proud that a family who helped keep his old neighborhood bond together will be living in it.

"It is tragic to see the house go, but it is incredible to see how the neighborhood came together for them to stay and build a new home and new chapter," Willis said.