“I’ve heard stories of what the Red Cross has done to help people, but you don’t realize how valuable it is unless you’re in a situation where you really need it. And I was in a situation where I really would appreciate it,” Honbeck says. “It doesn’t matter how much you have, when everything you have is destroyed.”
After her home fire, Evelyn Honbeck was not going to leave. Oh, no. Not from the property she’d lived on since 1976. If not for the Red Cross, she would have slept in the barn.
The fire started as many do, innocently enough. A friend’s deep freezer was plugged in on the lower patio. It was a relatively new freezer -- about six months old -- but somehow, it shorted out. And that was that.
“It got the wiring on fire,” says Honbeck, who is 86 years young. “Got the wall on fire. Then the drapes, and from then on, it was history.”
Evelyn's property sits among a checkerboard of open fields and barns, about a quarter mile off the highway. It's a drive up a rutted gravel road, with scatterings of grass and weeds. The neighbors are few and far between.
Honbeck had stepped outside that day for about a half hour to work on her truck. Once the fire sparked, it spread fast, filling the basement with smoke. The pressure built up and blew out the door leading into the house. “That’s when I saw the smoke coming out,” she says.
At first, she was in disbelief. Her neighbors were her first responders, running to the property to make sure she was OK. “I just stood there with my neighbors and all I could say was, ‘I can’t believe it. I just cannot believe it.’”
When the firefighters had done their work, and things calmed down, someone asked Honbeck where she was going to stay. Her neighbors assumed she would stay with her son, in his home in Independence, about 45 minutes south. She wouldn’t go. There was absolutely no way she was abandoning the property.
“Oh, no,” she recalls herself saying. “I’m staying here if I have to sleep in the barn. I’m not going to leave the property.”
When a friend heard that, she called the Red Cross. Within an hour, two responders had arrived from the Salem office with a debit card to get Honbeck through the next few days. They gathered with Honbeck, her neighbors, and fire officials around a neighbor’s table, working on Honbeck’s immediate need: a place to stay that wasn’t furnished with hay.
“It was just really nice to have them come,” Honbeck says, “because I was out there with only the shirt on my back.” She had nothing, not even the use of her car. It had been spared in the carport, but the keys burned up inside her home..
“It just felt good to be in a room,” Honbeck says. “I didn’t eat that night -- I obviously wasn’t very hungry.” The next day a neighbor took her around to get the essentials and work on getting her life back in order.
The property, the hotel room Honbeck eventually settled in was only a few miles away. It was close to her home and provided a comforting refuge that first night.
Honbeck's home is being rebuilt slowly. Her insurance company has taken over and is allowing her to stay on the property, the place she didn’t want to leave.
When asked about the Red Cross responders that fateful day? “They were a godsend.”