Wisconsin community helps family without home

  • Associated Press
  • December 31, 2013 - 5:15 PM

TOWN OF BYRON, Wis. — Community members in Fond du Lac County are coming together to help a family whose house burned down Christmas Eve.

The Dec. 24 fire destroyed the Town of Byron house owned by Don Hannemann but spared the shop from which he operates H-D Welding and a trucking company.

Since then supporters have been splitting wood to help heat his business and keep it going, while collecting household items, gift cards and money, according to the Reporter Media reports ( ).

Red Cross and Immanuel Trinity Lutheran Church are also offering support, said Donna Hannemann.

"It's a humbling experience to lose everything and then be a recipient of so much giving," she said. "We are so thankful that everyone is safe and our family is together."

The fire happened the same day their son, Derek Wensel, returned home after serving seven months with the Army Reserve in Afghanistan, where he was deployed with Pewaukee's 372nd Engineer Company.

That morning Don Hannemann drove to the Waukesha Expo Center to greet his son during a welcoming ceremony along with 145 other soldiers from his unit.

"I was so excited, but along the way my little truck broke down and I had to stop in Slinger to get it fixed," he said. "That's when I got the call from the sheriff's department that my house was burning down."

Donna Hannemann was at her mother's house with her 12-year old daughter Joanna, preparing for the holiday celebration.

"I was happy and excited because Derek was finally coming home so my mom and I were planning Christmas Eve," she said. "We were going to go back to her house after church to celebrate."

The family has also received help from other veterans and some of Wensel's Army buddies. Besides splitting wood and general cleanup, six inches of ice from water used to fight the fire had to be broken up so semi-trailer trucks could get in and out.

More people stopped by to offer help, including some Don Hannemann had never met before.

"A neighbor a mile down the road brought me money, said they took up a collection at church," he said.

The family is staying at a motel until they can find temporary housing. They are trying to find a place that will allow them to keep their dog.

Don Hannemann says he has insurance and plans to rebuild. The fire's cause remains under investigation.

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