Van Hoecke says what’s important is still intact: faith, family, friends and community
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Everything she owned was stored in a large pole shed and when the shed burned in late September, she lost it all.
Marnita Van Hoecke has been building a new home since earlier this spring — while the construction was going on, she moved everything into her large pole shed, making an office space and a place to sleep.
Van Hoecke said she began to count her blessings.
Her dogs and horses were not in the shed the day of the fire, as they had been moved while woodwork for the home was being stained. They were due to be brought home the next day.
“For people who are pet owners, they’re like my kids, that’s a blessing,” said Van Hoecke.
“Vicki Villebro and her family were kind enough to go out and buy necessities I would need and really took me under their wings,” said Van Hoecke, who has been staying with the Villebro family since that night.
The next morning, when she returned to survey the wreckage of her make-shift home, Van Hoecke saw something that overwhelmed her.
There, in the ashes, not eight feet from where she lived and slept, a piece of charred wall formed the shape of a cross.
It was the first thing she saw and said it was like a message telling her she was not alone. It made her feel incredibly blessed.
“I think we have to realize in life what’s really important and it’s not material things,” said Van Hoecke. “Great friends, a super family, community and a good faith” are the things Van Hoecke counts as the only important things in life. The rest is just stuff.
“I think we forget that. Something like this gives you a different perspective in life,” she said. I’m just very lucky. I don’t know if every community is as supportive as this, but I am so proud to be a part of this one.”
Van Hoecke said it’s often so easy to get negative when bad things happen. “It’s times like these that we’re reminded of what’s true and what’s necessary in life,” she said.
When the fire occurred Sept. 30 in Ripley Township, just north of Freedhem, Little Falls Fire Chief Mike Nieman said the shed was totally engulfed by the time firefighters arrived.
He also said the fire was difficult to put out.
“What happens in a building that long (36-feet by 90-feet), the fire falls in on the contents,” he said. “The tin has to be moved to put the fires out.”
The 15 volunteer firefighters from Little Falls received help from nine Pierz volunteer firefighters.
“I have to give a shout out not only to our community, but to our fire department, who were fantastic,” she said, also praising emergency personnel.
“They were wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Mike Nieman and his guys made a traumatic experience tenable,” she said. “I have such great friends and a ton of neighbors came.”
The kindness and outpouring of support from friends, family and neighbors inspired Van Hoecke. Her phone went dead three days in a row, due to the number of calls she received.
“I’m touched by the outpouring of support,” she said.
“What you need to be happy comes from within, not from stuff you own,” she said. “I haven’t cried for the barn, but I have been really touched by the support.”
Van Hoecke found some things she had of her father’s, who is now deceased. She also found the charred remains of cards she has received over the years. Van Hoecke moved only the things she treasured most into the shed.
She plans to look for verses from the cards that touch her, cut them out and create a collage, “So I can remember a little piece of what people gave me and make it a remembrance,” she said.
“It has touched me forever. This will be something I never forget. Hopefully it’s something that I can touch on every year,” she said. “I’ve never felt more blessed than I feel right now and I want to remember that.”
The memories from her father, the collage and the photo of the burned cross will grace the fireplace in her new home once it’s complete.
“It’s been a painful experience, but I want it to be a positive experience … it will be kind of a rebirth of what is important,” she said.
Van Hoecke is hoping to move into her home soon, even before it’s completed, as the walls are up and she can sleep on an air mattress.
Another blessing: “Moving in will be a breeze now, I only have a duffle bag, toothbrush and my dogs,” said Van Hoecke.
And while it may be an inconvenience, she also has her friends, neighbors, community, family and above all else, she said, “A very strong faith, a true belief that everything happens for a reason. The good and bad shape who we are. I just can’t be unhappy.”
In the future, Van Hoecke knows what she wants her legacy to be.
“That when I touched some people’s lives, I touched them in a positive way and tried to give them inspiration,” she said.