It was just after midnight on the morning of May 29 when Dean McGaha’s Midway Road home burned. He lost everything. Everything. That fire, though, forged a coalition of relationships and friendships that continue today, a coalition caring for this 66-year-old man.
The leaders are three members of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office: Jerry Glenn, fire investigator; Kimberly Glenn, KCSO’s communications director; and Terry Massey, a reserve deputy.
McGaha has no family. He’s lived in the Carter Community his entire life, in this house for 30 years. Never married. He suffered a stroke 12 years ago that affected his right side and ended his working days. He receives a little money from a monthly disability check. He has lived simply without electricity, TV, a refrigerator and running water for many years. A small generator allowed him to charge his phone and the radio he loves. He collected rainwater in a large barrel, pouring the water into his tub and bathing. A neighbor would bring him drinking water.
“I got used to that simple life and it worked for me,” he says.
Jerry Glenn was on call the night of the fire and responded to it in his investigative role. The fire, by the way, was ruled accidental. McGaha had no insurance.
“He lives a very simple life, is very proud, but he had nowhere to go and no one to go to,” Jerry Glenn says. “We just couldn’t leave him there alone after the fire. He was helpless. No clothes. Nothing. He doesn’t have a car. We had to help him. Just had to.”
After Rural Metro mopped up the fire around 3 a.m., Glenn drove him to the Super 8 Motel on Crosswood Boulevard. The American Red Cross gave him a $350 credit card. The next day Glenn took him to Walmart to buy new jeans, shirts, underwear, shoes and toiletries – the basics, along with a new suitcase compliments of Massey.
What followed were posts about McGaha on Kimberly Glenn’s personal Facebook page. That led banker Massey into the coalition, and he coordinates this effort today. He began a GoFundMe page that has $2,285 with a goal of $5,000. A Knoxville Police Department (KPD) ranking officer who remains anonymous donated a large, single-wide mobile home to locate on McGaha’s property. But it has no axles or wheels. The coalition is searching for someone to transport the mobile home the five miles.
After a few weeks, Glenn and Massey moved McGaha to the Arrow Motel on Asheville Highway to save money. He now has TV, air conditioning, running water for showers, and the comforts of a home. They help him pay for food. Churches are in the coalition, among others. Officers from the KCSO and KPD are contributors and helpers.
When you ask him about the help, this soft-spoken man, thinking about what has happened, lifts his head, chokes up and says, “I had no idea such help from these people was out there – people like Jerry and Terry and the others. This has absolutely restored my faith in humanity.”
One thing that had to happen was to bulldoze what was left of the house, clear the debris and prepare for the mobile home. Massey called an old friend, Chris Landers of Monterey, Tenn., who owns a company, Landscape. He and his crew drove to Midway Road early on a Saturday morning and spent eight hours demolishing and clearing the site. All work was donated.
“We have a long way to go. There are still so many expenses to come, but we know God is faithful and has provided through y’all thus far,” Kimberly Glenn posted on Facebook. “To everyone who has donated, I can’t thank you enough. While the world around us was burning down (literally in some areas), y’all showed up and showed the world how to be the change we wish to see.”
If you would like to make a donation to help with this, the link is here:
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and has been the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes –for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-659-3562.