Herrons offer home to family that lost everything
By Bill Graham • Special to SMN | For Ed Herron, childhood at Lake Junaluska in the 1960s was idyllic. He loved it.
It wasn’t just the beauty of the mountains and the lake, he says, but his memories of the people. “The spirit of goodwill is very strong there,” he said.
His adventures as a teen included rising to the rank of Eagle Scout — no small feat — and as he reminisces, he draws directly from the Scout Oath, which urges young people to do their best ‘to help other people at all times.’
Recently, serendipity gave him a chance to do just that.
When a large family from Clyde lost its home in August to violent flooding caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred, Herron, who hadn’t lived at the lake since he was a teenager, just happened to be in a place to help.
In a county with a very limited rental market, in the midst of a natural disaster, he gave the family a place to live.
It all began decades ago, when Herron, now in the lumber business in Hickory, visited the mountains with his wife Karen and their young family, and stopped in at the house where he’d been raised. His parents had long since moved away, but he wanted to show his kids the house, and he chatted with the owners.
If they ever decided to sell, they told him, they’d give him a call. Last year, they did.
The Herrons bought the house, began sprucing up, and planned to both rent the home to vacationers and to live there, as so many Lake Junaluskans do. They were wrapping up the work in mid-August, when, during a trip to see their daughter in Colorado, they saw Haywood County pop up in a television newscast. Aghast, they watched scenes of the flooding that took lives and destroyed hundreds of homes.
For Tillman Lott and his husband Jessie, the flood experience was similar to many others along the Pigeon River. That afternoon they watched the rain pelt down, they fretted a bit, and they checked the news. A knowledgeable neighbor doubted the water would come out of its banks, but before they knew it the river was swirling into the house.
By the next morning most of their belongings were ruined — “anything that wasn’t hanging on the wall” — and farm animals lost. One vehicle survived, one didn’t, and the goats and chickens mostly perished. The dogs made it through, but in general the warm home they loved was gone.
“I had a beautiful garden, and it was just coming in,” said Lott.
Where were they going to live?
“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” said Lott, who is a retired chef on disability. “We didn’t have the money to even think about another place.”
That morning Tillman and Jessie and the five kids, ranging in age from 8 to 19, worked in the mud and muck, saving what few belongings they could. “Side-by-side, as a family,” Lott said. Their belongings, for the most part, were heaped at the roadside.
Lorelei and Dean Garnes, volunteers with Helping Haywood, came along to offer help and cleaning supplies, and pointed them toward Mountain Projects, a community action agency.
Lott visited and found help. Mountain Projects was well positioned to help flood survivors and was ramping up for what would be a long few months. They housed the family in a local hotel while the search began for a new place for them to live.
Meanwhile, Herron saw a Lake Junaluska Assembly email blast soliciting help for flood victims, called, and was told the need had been filled. A few days later the Assembly sent another email, he responded again, and this time the connection was made.
“They told me ‘a family with five kids,’” said Herron. “I said ‘sure, bring them on.’ They said ‘they have big dogs.’ I said ‘sure, let’s do it.’”
“Can you imagine the devastation of losing your home and everything you own?” he adds. “We did what we could to help them heal from the trauma.”
The Herron family gathered at Lake Junaluska for a family photo, reclaiming the home that Ed Herron had grown up in through the 1960s.
A snapshot of the Lott family around the Herron’s dinner table the night they moved in shows palpable relief — beaming young faces all the way around. “That first night we sat down to supper it felt just like home,” said Lott, who goes on to describe how the Lake Junaluska environment was healing for them all.
Ed and Karen felt as if some sort of intervention was at play.
“We thought we were fixing our house up to make some money and have a place to retire,” said Herron. “But we were really fixing it to be in the position to help.”
“I love Haywood County,” he added. “A ton of good-hearted people have done nice things since the flood, and we had an opportunity to help do the same.”
Meanwhile, the Lotts had been put in touch with Michele Rogers, owner at Waynesville’s Select Homes, and Rogers was working to find a place for them.
Miraculously, given the market, she was successful.
By fall the family was in a new home — a tidy 1930s bungalow in Waynesville with enough space to meet their needs. A web of friends and good Samaritans helped furnish the entire place for a grand total of $1,200. And when Lott tried to hand a Herron a check to cover their stay at Junaluska, Herron handed it right back.
“After meeting Tillman and Jessie’s family, my wife and I talked about it,” said Ed. “We made the decision that we wouldn’t accept any money. We were just glad to be able to help a Haywood County family.”
The Lotts are emotional about their friendship with the Herrons, but also about where they landed.
“Of course we miss all of our stuff and old house. But we love our new house — it feels like home. We don’t hurt or need for a single thing.”
Heading into the winter season, Mountain Projects is requesting community donations in support of the Emergency Needs Fund. Contributions will be used to support friends and neighbors in Haywood and Jackson Counties who have unmet basic needs: food, heat and shelter. Between now and March 2022, Mountain Projects anticipates more than 200 requests for emergency utility assistance alone.
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Many blessings to the Heron family for opening a home and their hearts! Now this is what Haywood county oughta be!