Thursday, November 15, 2012

LAKE CITY — Gus Macke thinks of the tragic deaths of four fellow Lake City residents in an early-morning fire Tuesday. It tears at him.

Madison Pierson, just 8 years old, was in his granddaughter Macy’s class. He knows the father of three children and grandfather of one snatched from this earth by flames and smoke.

“I’m just so sad for them,” Macke said. “The whole thing is just overwhelming for me.”

The Lake City car-dealership owner and community leader wanted to help. But what to do? How does a family, a community, survive such a loss?

“How do you?” Macke said. “I don’t know.”

The loss of life is staggering. Macke, who lost a son, Mike, to a car accident more than a decade ago, understands the pain. He can’t chase that away.

But he did have a rental house, on Main Street, across from the school in Lake City.

So Macke decided to give it to Tony Pierson and Kim Kraft as long as they need it, free of charge. No lease, no strings.

“This thing is just so horrible,” Macke said. “They lost everything. He lost everything he owns plus his family.”

With the assistance of daughter-in-law Kristi Macke, who works in accounts payable at the dealership in Lake City, Gus Macke put the word out on Facebook, and using the Macke Motors page on that social-networking site, they raised money and collected enough furniture to make the home a ready refuge for Pierson and Kraft.

“We had this thing full of furniture within six hours,” Gus Macke said.

Someone from Lake City donated a deep freeze. A Churdan resident filled it full of meat for the grief-stricken couple, who moved into the house on Tuesday.

Pierson, 45, works overnight shifts at Farner-Bocken Company, a national food distributor, in Carroll with Kim Kraft and their daughter Ashley Pierson. Another daughter, Tyra, 22, takes care of the younger kids while the parents are away. Tyra died in the Tuesday fire along with her infant son, Xavier, a brother, Wyatt, 3, and Madison.

Gus Macke said an “army of people” is with Pierson and Kraft at the donated home.

The three-bedroom, $80,000 home isn’t just any old house for Gus Macke. It’s special.

Until just weeks ago, it served as the home of Father Robert Thiele, a retired priest who served St. Mary in Lake City as well as St. Joseph and the Kuemper Catholic School System in Carroll. Thiele passed away Oct. 19 at age 86 at Stewart Memorial Community Hospital in Lake City. Macke had arranged for Thiele to live in the house rent-free for years with one stipulation: the priest would say a Mass for Macke’s late son Mike every day.

“It was a wonderful home for him to live in,” Macke said.

In fact, just days ago, Thiele’s family had removed his furniture and belongings. Macke had a buyer for the home. But tragedy hit.

“It’s just absolutely killing me,” Macke said of his grief for Pierson and Kraft.

The Mackes say they have more than enough furniture now. They are still seeking cash donations to assist the family.

“We’ll just do what we can to help Tony,” Gus Macke said.

Added Kristi Macke, “The response was just overwhelming.”