March 1, 2019

March 2019 marks 50 years ago that our family’s house burned down.

By John & Joan Maxwell

The day started like any other brisk March school day. The weather was cold and blustery as my mother and I set out for school. My mother was a substitute teacher. That day she was substituting in a home economics class at Walcott Elementary and Intermediate School, where I was in first grade. On the ride in, Mom told me to come to the home economics room at the end of the school day, and we would go home together.

Back at the farm, my father finished the morning milking and opened the barn door to let the cows outside, just as he did every day. But this fateful day, Dad opened the door to the smell of smoke. His eyes lifted up to see smoke streaming out of the house. He ran to our neighbor’s house to call the fire department, who soon arrived. The firefighters almost had the fire out, but then their water ran out. By the time they returned with more, the fire had fought back to the point that our house was fully engulfed in flames. The firefighters were able to save the summer kitchen attached to the house. They also were able to pull a few pieces of furniture out through the windows, but that day the fire robbed us of almost all our possessions.

At the end of the school day, unsuspectingly I went to the home economics room, and my mother told me what had happened to our home. She explained all my toys were gone and asked if I wanted to take some fabric scraps out of the wastebasket to play with.

When we arrived, the house was still burning. I will never forget seeing the ivory keys of our player piano burning. Nearly everything I had thought was important was being consumed. The fire left us with only the clothes on our backs. I cannot describe how devastating it was to lose so much. Yet, thankfully we still had each other. Because the house was empty during the fire, no one had been injured or killed. We also still had our dairy farm. We acquired a mobile home, and for about ten months slept there and ate in the summer kitchen while we built a new house.

The fire stole so much from our family, but because of it, we got to see what an amazing community we live in. As much as the fire took, our community gave back, surrounding us with love and support. Our minister came to our house and prayed with us. My great aunt and uncle, who lived down the road from us, took us into their home while we were getting back on our feet. From the day of the fire until months afterward, we received generous gift after gift of clothing, food, furniture, and toys from so many gracious people in our Eastern Iowa community. Those people—YOU—made our tragic time bearable. To this day I’m grateful for the wonderful community who came together to help our family in our time of great need.

Fifty years after that horrible fire, we’re proud to still farm in this great community. We’re thankful to be able to give back to this amazing community of family and friends. We want to provide the very best meats and cheeses to you. Please stop by our self-serve store, the Cinnamon Ridge Country Cupboard, north of Donahue, or pick up our delicious products at the I-80 Truckstop, North Scott Foods, or the Freight House Farmers Market.

Filed Under: News