Out of ashes of fire rose community

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 20, 2011 - 11:22 PM

Led by four motivated high school seniors, the community has banded together to help the Haslett-Marroquins of Northfield get back on their feet.

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Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin talked with Atina and Martin Diffley during a benefit for his family in Northfield on Friday. The Haslett-Marroquin family lost their home to fire the day before Thanksgiving.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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It didn't completely surprise community organizer Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin that his neighbors -- friends and strangers alike -- have helped his family rise from the ashes after a fire destroyed the family's rural Northfield home on Thanksgiving Eve.

"We know a lot of people," Haslett-Marroquin said. "We made it part of our mission to know people and to be known."

The 44-year-old Guatemala native has run the Rural Enterprise Center program since 2007, helping Latino families in and around Northfield and Faribault create sustainable agriculture projects, such as a free-range chicken co-op. His wife, Amy Haslett, is a second- and third-grade teacher at Prairie Creek Community School. Their three children attend Prairie Creek and ARTech charter school.

But the outpouring of support "completely humbled us," Marroquin said. "It's one thing to understand. It's another to experience it."

Since the family escaped with only the clothes on their back, the community -- led by a motivated quartet of high school seniors -- has donated meals, gift cards for groceries, money, household goods and labor. A Facebook group (Helping out the Marroquin-Hasletts) has more than 400 friends and has attracted queries from as far away as California. A bake sale earlier this month raised $500. A benefit concert Friday night raised another $5,000.

"This is the kind of thing they would do for anybody else," said Gabby Frenstad, 17. "Regi did this for a Hispanic family that had their home burn down in Northfield a couple of years back. The mom is always volunteering. Will, who's a grade below me, if he sees someone awkward, he's the first one who goes up to them.

"They really deserve to have the community reach out of them in this way."

The Haslett-Marroquin family was hoping to find enough acreage to have a small farm when they stumbled on their "beautiful little house" on W. 315th Street in Waterford Township. The house sat on almost two acres of land, not enough room to farm, but enough to keep chickens and grow vegetables.

It became their dream home, Marroquin said. They landscaped the property, put in a small greenhouse, installed a fireplace, replaced windows.

By Thanksgiving Eve, they were prepared for winter. The vegetables had been put up. The freezer was stocked with beef and home-grown chickens. That night, the two older children, Will, 16, and Nicktae, 13, were at sleepovers at friends' houses. The couple and their youngest son, Lars, 8, were in bed or almost in bed when Amy Haslett noticed smoke.

By the time the threesome had escaped and firefighters had arrived, the house was engulfed in flames. The family had only the clothes on their back. "I didn't even have socks on," Marroquin said last week.

The family moved into Haslett's parents' home and, for almost two days, they were heartbroken, believing that their dogs, Amber, a hound mix, and Katie, a beagle, had perished in the blaze. Marroquin even dug a grave for the dogs Thursday.

Then on Friday morning, Haslett was at the home's skeleton with the fire marshal. The fire marshall broke an egress window to the basement and there, alive, were Amber and Katie.

"It's just incredible," Marroquin said. "When Amy came home and I saw them drive up. She's beaming and happy. She's smiling. 'We found them! We found them alive!' Then I see them poking through the window."

Despite that bit of good news, Marroquin and Haslett watch their children closely for delayed stress reactions. The family has learned that they probably didn't have sufficient insurance to rebuild. The future is a little uncertain.

"We're not affluent," Marroquin said. "My wife is a teacher and I work for a nonprofit. We're not bringing in six figures."

But if Frenstad and her friends have their way, the family will get back on its feet. On Friday afternoon, Jon Fried, 17, was at the Northfield Ballroom, organizing the bands that would play that night at the benefit.

So many musicians volunteered to play that there wasn't room on Friday night's bill to accommodate them all. The students hope to organize another benefit concert for the family in January.

"I know Regi and his family. I don't know him all that well," Fried said. "We just kind of felt like we wanted to help out and stepped up to make things happen. The stars kind of aligned and it all got sorted out exactly as it should have."

Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252

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