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Perryville community aids family in need


(KFVS) - Every day, Gene Zahner returns to what remains of the house he called home for 16 years.

"I've never seen anything like this before in my life," Zahner says while surveying the damage. "I don't know how to put into words this hear besides total disaster."

A fire destroyed the Zahner and his family's house four weeks ago--a lightning strike to the roof.

The pain piled on when Gene's wife Wendy got into a car accident on her way to the burning house.

"I didn't get even halfway home before I was in the accident," Wendy Zahner said.

She fractured three ribs and dislocated her ankle.

The Zahners, though, kept their resolve.

After all, they'd been through far worse two years earlier. That's when their oldest son, Clayton, died from an accidental drug overdose. He was 22.

"Just a bad, bad accident," Gene said, his voiced choking up. "We feel like we can get through anything after going through that."

But with almost all of their possessions lost, the Zahners would need help.

It would come from the Perryville community, beginning with the football team.

"We just felt like there was something that we needed to do," said Perryville High School head football coach Mike Wojtczuk.

Wesley Zahner, one of Gene and Wendy's two sons, plays on the Perryville jv football team.

When his coach heard what happened, he didn't waste time coming up with a plan.

The day after the fire was the team's season-opening jamboree. Wojtczuk and the school turned it into a fundraiser.

"We just passed football helmets through the crowd, and we had freshman football players do that and just accept donations," Wojtczuk said.

"My teammates and everybody have been pretty good, I've got a lot of friends on this football team so that helps," Wesley Zahner said.

Through the coming weeks, donations trickled in from everyone and everywhere. They came not only in the monetary form, but through clothing and furniture as well.

"It's been above and beyond what I expected," Gene said. "The people of Perryville have been great."

"Nobody's doing it but for the kindness of their own heart," Wendy added. "It's out of sympathy. It's very humbling."

As the support keeps pouring in, they're finding ways to start over.

It starts with replacing the things they've lost. But for now, they know the most important things are still intact.

"We had a lot of memories in that house," Gene said. "But we can make more. At least we're all here."


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