By Julie Ann Madden
They were camping at Yankton, S.D., that fateful 2011 Memorial Day Weekend when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing large amounts of water from Gavin’s Point Dam on the Missouri River above their Riv-R-Land home near Dakota Dunes, S.D.
When his father started calling, warning him flood waters were coming, Todd Lenz brought his fiance, Jaime, and their children, Zach age 9, and Jackson, less than three months, home. They could hardly navigate the one-lane street that runs between their home and a river canal as people were evacuating and sandbagging.
“It was chaos,” said Jaime.
The couple frantically began packing up their belongings and sandbagging around their home. When an official told them to expect water half way up their windows on the main floor, the Lenz’ quit sandbagging, stored what they could in friends’ and family members’ garages, and moved into their motor home.
Their home at 4 Edgewater Lane was the third closest house to the Missouri River, which normally flowed just a few feet from their back door.
Soon, the Lenz family moved in with relatives and eventually into a temporary home.
For more than three months, the only sight they had of their home was through aerial photographs as the street remained under flood waters.
In September 2011, they actually saw the devastation of their home, which had had 3.5 feet of water on the main floor.
With Federal Emergency Management Agency and South Dakota state officials refusing to grant buy-out dollars so Riv-R-Land families could just demolish their homes, walk away from their properties and start over elsewhere, the Lenz’ faced a huge financial dilemma. The flood insurance money did little to take care of our home’s mortgage and didn’t touch the renovation costs, said Todd, adding we soon came to the decision our best bet would be to demolish what was left of our home and rebuild on the lot.
It was about that time our pastor, Rev. David Zirpel of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Sioux City, and his Outbound Servants took us by the hand and didn’t let go, said Jaime.
Redeener Lutheran Church’s Outbound Servants was founded in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico. This group of volunteers has traveled to Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, helping flood victims renovate their homes.
When the 2011 flood hit Siouxland, the Outbound Servants and their sister organization, Meals with a Mission, decided to help a local family. The Lenz were the only church members to lose their home in this flood.
In March 2012, under the guidance of the family’s contractor, Outbound Servants volunteers began laying the new home’s foundation — four feet higher than the former home’s.
“We got involved as volunteer support right at the beginning,” said Roy Olsen of Redeemer Lutheran Church who coordinates the group’s projects with Zirpel.
“We aren’t carpenters,” said Zirpel, admitting he says a prayer over every project he does whether it’s painting a wall or cutting boards for window trim — praying for the carpenter’s guidance to do it correctly.
More than 100 volunteers — often groups of grandfathers, fathers, sons and grandsons and sometimes their spouses– worked together day after day at the site while Meals with a Mission, made up of mostly church women, cooked and transported meals to the site every day for both subcontractors and volunteers.
“We, volunteers, helped with about every phase of the project,” said Olsen, explaining they didn’t help with the home’s electrical, plumbing and heating/air conditioning system.
Not only did the volunteers work during the week, but they became “weekend warriors” working along side Todd for so many months, said Jaime.
Just before Christmas the home was completed and the Lenz family moved into their new home.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Olsen, noting it’s a lot easier going “south” for a week-long project than following one that’s six months long. “But, it’s very rewarding.”
On Jan. 27, four generations of the Lenz family opened the new home to the volunteers to thank them and allow them to see the completed home.
“We’re the first one to put up a new home,” said Todd, noting the neighbor to their south is rebuilding but the neighbors to the north has just abandoned their home.
“The outpouring of support — financial contributions, the volunteer man hours, the meals — provided throughout all this,” said Jaime. “Those things were priceless. They helped out so much. We’re so thankful. We’re so blessed to have so much help with the house.”
“We’re thankful for the support,” said Todd, who still believes people volunteered to do all this for them.
At the end of the open house, Rev. Zirpel blessed the home.