It took Albert Witt more than two weeks to muster the courage to examine what was lost in the fire that destroyed his home.
“There’s 80 years gone here,” the 77-year-old Chicago native said of the Pistakee Highlands home he shared with his 71-year-old wife, Hollyann.
On July 10, a mysterious fire swept through the residence in the 5600 block of Meadow Hill Lane. Authorities declared the property a total loss.
“There’s 40 years of her here, and there’s 40 years of me here, but there’s more than 40 with her,” Albert said.
Inside the house were Bibles notated with her family history, along with souvenirs, mementos, pictures and letters, reminders of her relatives and where she came from.
“That’s the stuff you can’t replace,” Albert said. “She’s the one I feel sorry for. Me? It’s stuff. Her? It’s her heart. It’s everything, and I can’t replace it for her.”
Albert was in the middle of getting X-rays at the hospital when his phone rang. It was about 11 a.m. July 10.
On the line was his neighbor, Jerry, from across the street.
The couple’s house was on fire.
“First thing that came to mind,” Albert said, “ ‘Can you get the dogs out?’ ”
Inside the house were the two dogs: a 12-year-old Italian greyhound named Sasha and a 13-year-old papillon named Buffy.
In an attempt to save the dogs, neighbors smashed the windows.
“Them poor little things,” Albert said. “They could hear the dogs, but they just couldn’t get to them.”
Returning to the wreckage
Unable to move his neck because of spinal problems, Albert stayed in the hospital. Hollyann drove back to the neighborhood.
Later, a granddaughter picked up Albert and drove him to the scene.
“When we turned that corner, and I saw Holly sitting in the road on that chair, my heart just broke for her,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say to her. I didn’t know what to say. I just put my arms around her and held her.”
Fire officials still are investigating the cause of the fire that collapsed the couple’s lives.
On a green folder, Albert wrote down a list of the destroyed possessions he considers “irreplaceable.”
Hollyann’s diamond wedding rings. The diamond earrings Albert (married 40 years next May) bought her.
Albert’s diamond wedding ring. (After a surgery some years back, Al dropped from 242 pounds to 175 pounds. The wedding ring wouldn’t fit on his finger anymore.)
The $1,000 leather jacket Hollyann bought him.
“That’s one I wish I had back,” he said.
Albert and Hollyann now are working with the insurance company. They plan to rebuild on the same site where their house burned down.
In the meantime, the couple is living two minutes down the road with their 47-year-old daughter, Kimi Paprocki.
The Witts have launched a GoFundMe page to raise $50,000 to help them through the rebuilding process.
Residents can donate at gofundme.com/home-total-loss-help-holly-and-al.
“This is an event that touches people when you least expect it,” Albert said. “So many things happen when something like this happens. People need to know about that.”