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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2010

Wood County fire site donated to Habitat

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WESTON, Ohio - The idea was planted in his mind the morning firefighters worked to put out a deadly blaze at an apartment building Dan Van Vorhis owned.

Across the street from the smoldering ruins, volunteers at Weston United Methodist Church were cooking breakfast for the firefighters and the residents displaced by the fire.

Mr. Van Vorhis said he decided then that rather than rebuild the apartments, he would find a way to honor the two men who died in the fire - and those who helped during the tragedy.

"For how the community came out in support, I thought this was a good way for me to give my support back to them," he said.

Last night, Mr. Van Vorhis presented the deed for the now-vacant property to the board of Habitat for Humanity of Wood County Inc. The nonprofit ecumenical housing organization plans to build two houses on the extra-large lot at Maple and Walnut streets.

Jimmy White, 69, and Ronald L. Perez, 45, died in the July 13, 2008, fire, which left 28 other occupants of the eight-unit apartment building homeless.

State fire investigators never determined the cause of the blaze but said it most likely was caused by careless smoking.

"My thought was to put two houses here in honor of those two guys - Jimmy and Ron," Mr. Van Vorhis said. "People give you grief - 'Why don't you sell it?' Sometimes you have to base your decision on what's right."

State fire investigators never determined what caused the apartment building fire that killed two men on July 13, 2008. State fire investigators never determined what caused the apartment building fire that killed two men on July 13, 2008.
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Tom Ehmke, Habitat's executive director, said the chapter has received other property donations. But most come with costs - back taxes or bills for demolishing old structures.

"There are no liens on this property. The taxes are current," he said. "Mr. Van Vorhis just wants to donate it to us, which is wonderful."

Since 2004, Habitat has built four homes with partner families in Weston, a village of 1,659 people just west of Bowling Green.

Staten Middleton, president of Habitat's board, said the agency is actively looking for prospective families interested in owning a new three-bedroom or four-bedroom house in Weston with a zero-interest mortgage.

"We build really very above-standard houses so it genuinely improves neighborhoods," he said.

Finding qualified families remains the chapter's biggest challenge, he said.

Mr. Ehmke said applicants must meet income requirements as well as show they currently are in inadequate housing.

The application process takes about three months to complete.

He said it will be at least a year before Habitat is able to build any houses on the donated property in Weston.

The chapter strives to build three homes a year, Mr. Ehmke said, and it already has projects scheduled for this building season in Northwood and North Baltimore.

Mr. Van Vorhis, a state probation officer who owns other rental property, said he has not been involved with Habitat for Humanity before now but believes its principles are good ones.

"It's just a good opportunity for people," he said.

"My goal as a landlord was always to provide the best place people have ever lived in. Doing this through Habitat is one way to reach that goal."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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