Help is just around the corner as Schrivers reach out to family hit by Gatlinburg firestorm
By Bill Brewer
November wildfires that swept through Gatlinburg left a charred trail of destruction with a most unusual signature. Some houses and businesses in the path of flames were untouched while structures beside them burned to the ground.
Nowhere is the eerie pattern more evident than in the Norton Creek subdivision off of the Spur between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
That is where David and Debbie Reed and their two sons barely escaped as their home and all their belongings were incinerated. In a matter of minutes, their mountainside neighborhood turned into a nighttime inferno. While some neighbors also lost everything, others were fortunate and unaffected.
It’s a situation Mr. Reed chalks up to the randomness of gale-force winds that spread burning embers for miles across Sevier County and created fires wherever they landed.
The Schriver place just down the road from the Reeds’ home was one of those dwellings that was spared.
When Julia Schriver, a longtime Diocese of Knoxville parishioner, first learned that the Nov. 28 fires had threatened the mountain home her husband, Bob, built in 1971, she feared the home would be a total loss.
The family found its weekend getaway house unscathed. However, images of thousands of displaced residents and burned-out foundations where homes had stood haunted Mrs. Schriver, who wanted to do something to help. But in addition to prayer, what?
Mr. and Mrs. Schriver and their three children occupied their mountainside residence nearly every weekend for 40 years. But since Mr. Schriver, a Knoxville building contractor, died in 2013 at age 86, the home has been used sparingly, and the family has considered selling it.
After reading about the Reeds’ plight in the January issue of The East Tennessee Catholic Magazine, an idea suddenly came to Mrs. Schriver — it was an epiphany … during Epiphany.
“God works in mysterious ways. After reading the story about the Reeds, my whole family wholeheartedly wanted to let the Reeds use our house,” Mrs. Schriver said. “My granddaughter, Amelia, saw the same story and had the same idea.”
Mrs. Schriver reached out to the Reeds, and an offer was made. The Reeds could use the three-bedroom, three-bathroom house for as long as they needed — rent-free.
The offer was accepted, with heartfelt gratitude.
The Reeds have been homeless since the fire, but not without a roof over their heads. After fleeing their subdivision as flames licked at their vehicle, they spent several days in a Pigeon Forge hotel before an individual offered them shelter in a Wears Valley cabin until spring.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do in the spring or where we were going to go,” Mr. Reed said.
“It’s a blessing to not only have somewhere to go, but to be back in our own neighborhood. We are looking forward to being in familiar surroundings.”
As Mr. Reed and Mrs. Schriver talked over details of the Reeds’ relocation, such as the Schriver family moving some of their belongings out to make room the Reeds, they realized they shared some things in common. Mr. Reed knew Bob Schriver and remembered the Schriver children. And both families attended St. Mary Church in Gatlinburg.
While they live in Knoxville and have attended the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and All Saints Church, the Schrivers attended weekend Mass at St. Mary for 40 years. Mrs. Schriver’s brother, Father James Driscoll, served as pastor of St. Mary from 1978 until his death in 1988, and her youngest son, Ragan, was an altar server there.
Ragan is now Father Ragan Schriver, a Diocese of Knoxville priest. The other children are Rob Schriver and Suzanne Schriver.
“I’m really glad we could do this. It feels good. The whole family wants to do this,” Rob Schriver said.
“Luke 12:48 says to whom much is given, much is expected. We had the chance to give; this is nice. We are thrilled to do this.”
Mr. Reed met the Schrivers at the house on Jan. 20 and was shown around the place and given a key.
Although not used much in recent years, the house was in pristine, move-in condition.
“I kept telling Julia, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ She said, ‘No, thank God.’ So I have been thanking Jesus. It is God; there is no other explanation,” said Mr. Reed, who noted that his family has already begun moving in some belongings.
“(The Schrivers) wanted to be a blessing to someone, but they weren’t sure how. God inspired them before they knew about us,” he added.
Suzanne Schriver agreed, saying it really is God at work and is something that her daughter, Amelia, who is an eighth-grader at Sacred Heart Cathedral School, can witness firsthand.
“I think God was undoubtedly reaching out to this deserving family after the horror they had gone through, and we simply were His vehicle,” Suzanne Schriver said. “The way we all feel really is it is better to give than receive. I told Amelia that this is the best example of that I can think of. It is so good to answer a need. It was meant to be.”
Father Schriver explained that his father built the house in 1971, and the family moved in in 1972. He said the home was used virtually every weekend until 2011, when his father suffered a bad fall and was no longer able to travel to Norton Creek.
“We came here every weekend growing up. I was 6 when it was built. Suzanne was 14, and Rob was 19,” Father Schriver said. “All four of us are really psyched that it is being used.”
As the Reeds prepare to move into the Schriver home, they also are overseeing the rebuilding of their home up the road.
Construction on the Reed house, named Bella Lisieux after St. Thérèse of Lisieux, began in February, and the family hopes to be in it by next Christmas.
They have no apprehension about rebuilding on the site of the house that burned. Mr. Reed said the fire that destroyed it burned so hot that the foundation was reduced to sand.
The firestorm that swept through the Gatlinburg area and other parts of Sevier County killed 14 people and destroyed or damaged more than 2,400 homes and businesses. Among those killed were a mother and her two children who were fleeing the flames.
Insurance claims of nearly $1 billion have been filed for fire damages.
Now that they have a place to live until their new home is built and their lives aren’t in as much turmoil as just after the firestorm, Mr. Reed said he can see that life in general around Gatlinburg is slowly returning to normal — although it may be a new normal.
“It’s a little better every day. Everything is coming back to where it was. The healing process, the rebuilding process is underway,” he said of Sevier County.
And that process also is underway for the Reeds.
It already is beginning to feel like home — thanks to the Schrivers.
Mrs. Schriver is overjoyed that the house will be a home again, even if it is temporary. She quoted her son, Father Schriver, telling her that giving, not receiving, is best.
“Ragan said, ‘Oh, Mom. I’m so glad we haven’t sold the house yet so the Reeds can use it.’ Since Bob has been gone, I really have not used that house. With him gone, it’s just not the same,” she said.
The Reeds are overjoyed by the Schrivers’ gesture, and the fact they have a common bond makes it even more special.
“Assistance coming from our St. Mary community is so special. Their house feels like home. It doesn’t feel strange,” Mr. Reed said. “I knew Bob, and I feel him when we are in the house. He was such a kind man who built the house with his own two hands 40 years ago. We’re thankful he did.”