Katy Lott, Pastor Tonnie Blackamore and Gary Sarabyn at 108 Grand Blvd. Feb. 2 (The Daily News/John Eby)
Katy Lott, Pastor Tonnie Blackamore and Gary Sarabyn at 108 Grand Blvd. Feb. 2 (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Aaron’s furniture delivery a ‘rainbow’ after fire

Published 10:45am Wednesday, February 3, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Tonnie Blackamore’s faith could get him through a house fire even the second time, but the pastor of Kingdom Covenant still saw a “rainbow” when that Aaron’s truck pulled up Tuesday afternoon and Katy Lott and Gary Sarabyn began carrying furniture inside.

He felt a bit like that Lucky Dog emblazoned on the truck’s side.

After nine days with two of his kids at Baymont, he was anxious to again have a house to call home.

“This is our first time doing this,” said Sarabyn of Aaron’s, 701 Spruce St.

“We’re under new management that wants to reach out to the community.”

“Tonnie’s been a great customer,” added Katy Lott. “We helped him out when he came to us saying he needed something.”

Dowagiac Fire Department responded to a structure fire in the 300 block of Pokagon Street Sunday evening, Jan. 24. The call was received at 7:44 p.m. Units arrived at 7:47 to find the second floor of the home involved in fire, Capt. Mike Mattix reported.

Dowagiac fire personnel were assisted by units from Pokagon Volunteer Fire Department.
All occupants were out at the time of arrival, and no injuries were reported.

“In the mid-’80s, 108 Cherry St. burned,” he recalled. He graduated from Union High School on his 18th birthday in May 1986.

“I still remember the next day they had a picture of my mom (Mary) in the paper, watching the house burn. This is my second house fire. It’s really hard to watch your stuff burn up once. But it’s really, really hard to watch it burn twice. Most people, if they’re lucky, don’t have one house fire.

“My clothes were downstairs, so I’m just trying to get the smoke out of them. The kids’ clothes were upstairs so they literally lost everything – their games, their stereos, their beds, their furniture, any pictures that they had in their rooms, my son’s jerseys from three years of rocket football.”

Two of his four children, a sixth grader who will be 13 in October and a seventh grader who will be 14 this month, live at home.

“Actually, when the fire started,” Blackamore said, “my two girls and my two grandbabies were at home. I think that’s what helped me keep everything in perspective. I left about 40 minutes before the fire started for my six-week rotation at the Cass County Jail. I went over there to preach and they called and told me my house was on fire, so I had to leave there and come back, not knowing if the kids were there or not and what was going on. I got another call in LaGrange that my daughter hadn’t got out, so I’m freaking out, trying to get to Dowagiac as quick as I can.

“When I got home, they had got out. When I was leaving for the jail, both my girls were trying to get the babies down for naps. The fire was in the next room. My grandbaby went out into the hallway. When my daughter went to get her, the door was on fire. As soon as they got to the bottom of the stairs, all the windows started breaking and the electricity started sparking.”

Pastor Blackamore, who arrived home to find “firetrucks from the corner of Johnson almost to Thickstun,” said fire investigators attributed the cause to either the electrical system or a space heater.

“There was a space heater there,” he said, “but my son swore it wasn’t plugged in. The fire inspector couldn’t tell because the cord had burned off.”

Pastor Blackamore said next month would have been his 20th anniversary in the burned house, which he hopes to repair by summer.

“I moved there when I moved out of my mother’s house,” he said.

Of going through a house fire a second time, he said, “When you have a long, rough day and you’re tired, all you want to do is go home. That was my mentality that evening after three services. I hadn’t eaten dinner. I wanted to go look in my refrigerator, go lay across my bed.”

(A pastor processes such a setback) “by just being thankful. I told my kids I count it no loss because my children and my grandchildren got out. Everything materialistic is going to perish anyway. Faith played an awesome part. I was just so thankful nobody got hurt. Even my dog got out” thanks to a rescue by the fire department.

The pit bull “went in my room, under the bed,” Tonnie said. “All the water from upstairs doused the mattress so it didn’t burn. The downstairs is okay. I don’t want to deal with ice, snow and cold, so I’m going to wait ’til spring to even start, then we’ll work on being back home by the end of summer.”

The dog “I had to take out to Dr. Butts for treatment,” Pastor Blackamore said. “He was really traumatized with separation anxiety. I never realized how much he was affected. That night I took him to my daughter’s at Vineyard. Our steps at the house are wooden. When I was going to put him in the basement for the night because I didn’t know where I was going to stay, he would not go. He’s almost 3 and he’s been going up and down stairs since he was 2 months old. I believe he associates wood stairs with fire. He’s a big dog, and I had to pick him up and carry him. I enjoy him. I haven’t had a pet since I was a kid. We got him for my son’s 10th birthday, but he grew on me, too.

“Since ICG closed, I’m home a lot. I moved in that house March 1, 1990, and I started at ICG April 9 of ’90, so both of them were coming up on 20 years.”

“All of this is so different to me,” Pastor Blackamore says of unemployment. “Being at home with time on your hands you don’t know what to do with. I’m using to pastoring, parenting and working.  Multi-tasking.”

He snaps his fingers twice for emphasis.

Nov. 30, 2009, he was one of five prospects interviewed for the First Ward City Council seat which went to Junior Oliver to succeed Darron Murray.

“I do like being able to do something well instead of just doing it,” Pastor Blackamore said, “but I really like to keep busy. I’m really thankful for my aunt (Violet Taylor; he is also the nephew of longtime teacher Ester Stanley) opening up the (three-bedroom) house,” which belonged to his grandfather, First Ward Councilman Sam Fowlkes, who lived across the street.

Mr. Fowlkes died Sept. 1, 2005, at 89.

Pastor Blackamore said he went to Aaron’s, where he had two accounts. One he paid off last month and the other had $58 remaining on his son’s PlayStation 3, Angie Jackson informed him.

Insurance would cover what remained to be paid, but would not replace the $400 game.
Aaron’s was sympathetic to his plight, however, and asked what he needed.

A bed for him. A bed for his son.

Someone provided a bed for his daughter.

Aaron’s also delivered a table and couch Feb. 2. Figuring “I’d feel better to try to do something for myself,” he purchased a dining room set.

The Red Cross put them up at Baymont for three days, then the Salvation Army covered the remainder of their stay.

“The kids loved swimming every day,” he said.

“The school has been outstanding. She probably has more clothes now than she did before the fire. My son is a little jealous, but also excited to have his own space again. My ex-wife used to always say I talked to them like grown-ups. Not necessarily, but I talk to them on a mature level because I want them to be mature.”

Fresh Start Rent-to-Own opened Sept. 3, 1996, at 705 Spruce in the former Gwilt Paint store, then built its current location in the block where the Barrel was across from Chris Taylor-Alumni Field in 2000.

Fresh Start became Aaron’s on Nov. 7, 2008.

Aaron Rents Inc. is the leader in the rental, lease ownership and specialty retailing of residential and office furniture, consumer electronics and home appliances.

Founded in 1955 by entrepreneur R. Charles Loudermilk and publicly traded since 1982, Aaron Rents was a pioneer in the furniture rental industry.

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