by Peter Jakey —Managing Editor
Thanksgiving will have a different feel this year for Wilbur, 85, and Geri Konwinski, 81, of Posen.
One part of the holiday has always been the same at 8362 M-65 North.
The couple has always been surrounded by family, whether it be Christmas or Easter, and of course Thanksgiving. And it’s always been right there.
For 45 years, the Konwinski’s home north of Posen had been the family gathering place.
That was until a cold spring night in April.
The furnace would not go on, so Wilbur tried to light the pellet stove to warm up the house for the evening ahead, but the stove had not been used for years.
During the process of getting it going, the knit shirt he was wearing caught fire.
“(Wilbur) opened the door and it back drafted, and got his sleeve. If I had not removed it, all his clothes would have been burning,” said Geri.
Everything happened very quickly from there. Original wood paneling, carpeting and the living room sofa were all on fire in an instant.
Geri ran outside in her stocking feet to call 9-1-1, but the phone would not work.
“I ran across the road to tell the neighbor to call,” she said. “I ran back and some kind soul stopped and gave me slippers to wear and blankets to cover up with.”
Wilbur was out, but was in desperate need of medical attention. His right hand had been badly burned, as well as his face, ear and the top of his head.
While Wilbur was being taken to the hospital, family members from the area started arriving at the scene to provide support for Geri who was sitting in a chair alongside M-65. She was no doubt in shock as she watched the fire crews battle the flames.
Geri suffered only a minor burn to her finger and singed hair.
Wilbur, a Korean War veteran, who built the house himself, was taken to an Ann Arbor hospital and listed in critical condition.
It was a lot to overcome. At one point, Wilbur and Geri were in hospitals in different parts of the state.
“It was hard on him, to have it go up in smoke, all his hard work,” said Geri.
“And this is my souvenir,” said Wilbur, holding up his bandaged right hand.
Before the final flames were knocked down, a GoFundMe account was created April 23, and the money and well wishes started pouring in. Approximately, 323 people helped to raise $23,490 in two months.
The Konwinskis had insurance on the house. “They did not want us to worry about money,” said Geri.
“They had help from the community from giving and supporting, as well as calls,” said Andrea Konwinski. “At different times, different family members would take off work to see them or help them.”
One month after the tragedy, Dan Scribner stated, “When something really bad happens, you can’t bury your head in the sand.”
“They were all so helpful,” said Geri. “It made my faith a lot stronger. I really believe the Lord was with me.
“When I got to look in the mirror in the hospital, my hair was all black. I could not believe it. I was in my stocking feet and had no burns on my feet. The carpet and sofa were burning. Definitely, the Lord was with us.”
They lived with Scribner and his family downstate, waiting to move back to Posen. They lived in an apartment at Fieldstone Manor before moving into the three-bedroom house two weeks ago.
All the while, Wilbur kept recovering. The family has joked that he has nine lives. He injured his back falling off a roof many years ago and needed back surgery. He keeps bouncing back. “He is strong willed,” said Geri.
Wilbur will have laser surgery on the hand Monday in Ann Arbor. “To see if they can make it work,” he said.
“He was right handed, too,” said Geri.
In the meantime, they have been piecing together their lives day-by-day in their new house.
New furniture arrived Monday morning, so there would be places to sit. It’s going to be almost a full house.
“Everybody brings something,” she said.
Geri will be making cranberry sauce and stuffing.
Beyond the food, the holiday has added meaning.
“It means a lot that they both have their house and they are going to be there,” said Andrea.
The Konwinski family will count its blessings when they break bread together Thursday – thankful for a supportive family and community, but most of all, to have Geri and Wilbur alive and well in their new home.
by Peter Jakey —Managing Editor