HUNTINGTON, Mass. - John Bergeron was away for the weekend when his house on Basket Street in Huntington burned down on Memorial Day in 2011.
The police put out an APB on his whereabouts, and he was picked up in Spencer where he first got the news that his home and all his belongings were gone due to an electrical fire.
Bergeron, a case manager for Health Access in Huntington, has been in the business of helping people to obtain benefits, health insurance, and other basic needs for years.
“It is my job,” Bergeron said. “But I’ve been told I go a lot further. I enjoy doing it. I’m one of those people who get up and don’t mind going to work.”
After the fire, Bergeron got a lot of support back from the town, townspeople and beyond. He was offered places to stay, people held fundraisers for him, and volunteers came out to knock down the burnt house and put it in dumpsters. Although the insurance came through quickly, Bergeron said it wasn’t enough to pay to have a new house built, so volunteer help was needed. In fact, Bergeron said, the only that labor that was paid for was plumbing and electricity, and even there he got a break.
One year ago, Bergeron poured the foundation for his new house. He had a hard time finding someone to do that initial work. Most contractors were busy working on structures damaged from the tornado that struck a few days after the fire, or, they took one look at the site on a rocky ledge across from the West Branch of the Westfield River, and said forget it. He got an offer of help from Huntington resident George Peterson to do the footings, and the foundation was poured. Soon after, Peterson became Building Inspector for the town and had to stop the project, due to a conflict of interest. So, Bergeron became the general contractor himself. He said he had done a lot of rehabbing on the old house, which was built in the 1850’s, but not as extensive as what lie ahead.
Throughout the project, Bergeron posted almost daily updates and photos of his progress on Facebook and he said a lot of people were following his progress. One of them was Mike Fenton of West Springfield, who saw the posts and decided Bergeron needed his help. Fenton and Bergeron had grown up together in Southwick. Their families were friends, and they were in the same Boy Scout troop. Fenton, who describes himself as a “Jack of all Trades,” started to come by and volunteer last October, and has been on the job ever since.
Thanks to a mild winter, Bergeron continued to build.
“People blamed me for the mild winter. We were putting up the ridge for the roof on January 18,” he said.
Other volunteers also stepped in. Huntington architect Jeff Penn helped him with the plans. Hilltown residents Gene St. Louis, Lester Goff and Dwight Morin–who was also reading the Facebook posts – were all regular volunteers.
Labor wasn’t the only donation Bergeron received. A maple floor was donated from an old church in Chester. His doctor gave him the beams from an 1835 barn he was knocking down on his property in North Hadley. He was also given a 1930’s Glenwood gas and wood cook stove, which still needs a little fixing up.
“I’m recovered. You have to move forward,” Bergeron said, when asked whether he still mourns the loss of his old home. “It’s hard losing all your possessions. My daughter actually pulled out a photo album filled with pictures of her and her brother when they were growing up, with only one photo missing.”
The verdict is out on Bergeron’s vinyl collection, numbering 3,000, which is charred and stored in bins. He doesn’t know if they’ll play. He said he found a burnt CD case however, which he pried open and it played fine.
The siding, the last step of the process, is due to go up on the house in a few days.
“I thank everybody immensely, for support, for help, for everything,” Bergeron said.
© 2012 The Westfield News . All Rights Reserved.