Seventh Circle residents in Marengo on June 11, 2017, mourned the St. Clair family for 20 minutes when they saw the flattened house that had exploded. They could see the burned family vehicle. Mike, Dawn and the kids had been on vacation, but must have come home early.

On vacation in California, Mike was awakened at 3:15 a.m. by a call from neighbor Julie Osler. “We’re all fine,” he reassured her in answer to her frantic query.

“Mike, your house is gone. It’s just gone.”

The St. Clairs, like their Seventh Circle neighbors, had just entered a new reality.

They were at a friend’s home in California. That was their first blessing—their friend Michelle calmed them down, made them wait and think and get their bearings before they hurried back to Marengo. In those first hours after that phone call, Dawn St. Clair remembers, “We were in complete shock and disbelief. We felt like Zombies, could hardly move or think.” She reports wondering “Now what do we do?” and thinking, “We’re homeless now.”

They asked, “Why us?”

There is as yet no answer for why it happened at all. State Bomb and Arson Investigators ruled that there is no blame due to any actions or inactions of the St. Clairs. It was an accidental gas explosion and it will take months to determine what caused it.

When they returned home to their destroyed neighborhood and the neighbors who had feared they were dead, they wondered how they would be welcomed.

“My neighbors almost broke my ribs with hugs,” Mike remarked.

The welcome was overwhelming. The outreach from the entire Marengo community has been and continues to be overwhelming. Both Mike and Dawn struggle to express everything they want to say. “There aren’t enough words to say thank you for everything,” Mike states. “Thank you doesn’t cover it all.”

Still, they both recognize that the outreach of support and assistance is no surprise to anyone who has lived in Marengo for any length of time. “We’re small town America,” says Mike. “People help each other.”

Losing everything from birth certificates to photo albums is always part of a disaster aftermath. Some items have been found, some photos have been salvaged. Among the scraps in one neighbor’s yard was a little piece of construction paper. 21-year-old daughter Katy had made a “coupon” for her Dad when she was five. The neighbor framed this memory and returned it to them. “It’s all the thoughtful gestures like this, that blow me away,” says Dawn.

The loss hit hard when Mike saw the strings from his grandmother’s piano strung over some wood in the yard. He knew there was little chance of finding the urns of his parents’ ashes or the Service Flag presented to the family at his dad’s funeral. Like the piano they were gone forever. But several days into the clean-up, both urns were discovered—undamaged! Though not stored together in the house, they were found near each other in the debris, along with Jack’s Confirmation Bible, also undamaged. Several days later, Mike spied a bit of red in the debris—his father’s Service Flag, still folded, undamaged.

Small miracles like these remind them of the larger miracles: everyone is alive and the citizens of this small town have come together to take care of each other.

“Please tell everyone we’re okay,” Dawn asked during this interview.

Currently living in a rental home in Marengo, the St. Clairs will be able to rebuild on the location of their lost home, thanks to prompt and compassionate response from their insurance company. Thanks to the heroic work of the M.O.R.E. Food Pantry in coordinating assistance and services offered, they and their neighbors are slowly putting life back together. “Please tell everyone thanks, even though that isn’t saying everything we feel in our hearts,” Dawn exclaimed.

 “There are no words for it all,” whispered Mike St. Clair

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