Rural Kingman County community supports family after fire takes their home

Published: Feb. 21, 2021 at 8:38 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Little is left of a Kingman County house that was home to three generations of a family. Now, the community where Edwin and Barbara Huelskamp live is helping them through this difficult time.

“I guess we’re doing okay. We didn’t have any physical problems. It’s kind of hard when you wake up the next morning and don’t have any underwear other than what you got on,” Edwin said.

They’re looking at the good at a time when it’s easy to be consumed by the bad. On February 12, their home of nearly 30 years was reduced to ash and rubble.

“It’s been so cold we haven’t really been able to do anything,” Barbara said.

That morning, Edwin went out to the pasture to make sure the cattle grazing on his land had water.

“Rent them out to the neighbor nearby that raises Angus cattle. That was actually how the fire started that morning was makes sure the cattle have water in the morning, and since it was like three degrees that day, the outside faucet was frozen. So, he was trying to thaw it out,” daughter Edith Huelskamp said.

“I was trying to thaw out a hydrant on the east side of the house, and pretty soon I’d seen some smoke, and I tried and tried, but I didn’t have any water there, and in 10 minutes, it was blazing,” Edwin Huelskamp said.

Edwin, Barbara, and their dog made it out safely. But, the house that three generations of this family lived in was gone.

Barbara said, “Willowdale, at the best had 19 houses. First day we moved back out to the farm, I said, ‘man, I didn’t realize how much I missed the country.”

Before Edwin and Barbara moved out to the house, Edwin’s parents lived there.

“Remember a lot of family gatherings with all of his family when his folks that lived out there,” Barbara said.

For their daughter Edith, she said the murals her grandmother painted on the walls are the hardest thing to lose.

Edith said, “The biggest thing was she had painted a mural in the bathroom that covered the entire end wall and the wall behind the toilet and then wrapped around to the other wall and that, you can never replace that ever.”

It also held a lifetime of memories in its four walls.

“I know my parents are planning to replace the house, but you’re never going to have all the little memories, just things as basic as the closet my grandpa built and the large picture window that looked out on the backyard. The bedroom that I had always decorated with Coca-cola stuff.” Edith said, “All these little things that you never replace.”

But, true to small-town charm, it’s been this family’s neighbors and friends providing an instant support system.

Edwin said, “Show up and give you stuff. It’s beyond belief.”

“Everybody is like what can we do to help. Right now, there’s not a whole lot to do. Come time to clean up the place, it will be a different story, but we know the community will be there,” Barbara said.

Edwin and Barbara said their local pharmacy reached out to make sure they could get the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Their neighbor who rents their pastures and owns a restaurant in Zenda has offered to provide the couple with the occasional free meal.

“It’s been so touching that just immediately, people started jumping in to help.” Edith said, “The Moliters who raise Angus cattle nearby, they’ve always been pretty close to my dad, and they own a restaurant in Zenda that’s pretty well known, the Lumber Yard, and that day, they made up lunch for everyone in the family to eat at my brother’s, and they called up my dad and offered some more help for providing some meals while they’re getting through these times.”

As they now look to rebuild, Barbara knows everything will be alright.

“Trust in the Lord. It’s going to happen. It’s going to be okay,” she said.

Edwin is also a member of the Knights of Columbus in Willowdale. He and Barbara help to host the Friday Fish Fry at the St. Peter Catholic Church hall during the Lenten season.

It’s the support that is helping to get them through it. A GoFundMe page has been set up for the family. If you would like to donate, click here.

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