After the fire, unexpected warmth from the kindness of strangers


A CHURCH social hall opened its doors yesterday to begin a fire sale for Spring House Designs -- one of the five businesses damaged in the Ellicott City fire Nov. 9.

The Rev. Glenn Ludwig, pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church, offered the space to Bill and Carole Sachs, the shop's owners.

"Have your parents come here," he told their daughter, Lisa Thompson. "We have the whole social hall they can use for as long as they want it."

The more than 4,000-square-foot hall, which seats 200 people, smelled like a specialty shop at Christmas yesterday. It was filled with neatly stacked cards, china, tinware, wooden figures, porcelain, baskets, cookie cutters, soaps, candles, lamps with decorative shades, wreaths, clocks, dried and silk flower arrangements, and Amish furniture.

Much was lost to smoke and water damage, Carole said. But because of the kindness of strangers, much was saved.

On the day after the fire, the merchandise was wrapped in heavy plastic and placed on the sidewalk outside the Main Street shop. That evening, the Sachses were told that the county could not protect it. Main Street was to be reopened Thursday morning, and the Sachses were asked to remove their inventory from the sidewalk.

From 11 p.m. Wednesday until 1: 30 a.m. Thursday, people pulled up in trucks and vans, loaded the items and hauled them to storage areas, the Sachses said.

Rich Taylor, vice president of the Ellicott City Business Association, offered his garage. Slack Funeral Home also offered garage space. Ellicott City residents Cathy and Dave Jones offered their basement; their son Matthew had taken art lessons with Bill.

A fellow arrived who called himself "Elvis," Carole said. "This is my town," he told her. He wrapped expensive porcelain Santa Claus figurines in his wool scarf and coat. Then he took off his shirt to wrap more figurines. Under his shirt, he wore gold necklaces and a black tank top, Carole said.

Over the next few days, "Elvis" brought his truck, tools and a ladder. Carole said he looked as if he was in his early 20s; she was told he was a steamfitter who worked in Reston, Va. He dismantled bookcases from the shop and rebuilt them. He "appeared and disappeared as quick as could be," not talking much but working quickly, Bill Sachs said.

Bonnie Danker, a church member, called 50 families to help with the move. About 20 to 30 pitched in.

"Angels coming out of the woodwork," Lisa said. " So many hands, so many prayers, so many people doing things."

By the Saturday morning after the fire, the ceiling of the Main Street store had begun to collapse, she said. That Sunday, the smell of smoke hung heavily in the social hall; by Monday, she said, "it smelled like Christmas."

The church had planned to show "Tarzan" for a family film night the day before yesterdayin the social hall. And a reception for the Thanksgiving Eve service is held there every year.

This year, the reception will be held in the narthex -- and "Tarzan" will be shown in a smaller social hall.

Giving thanks

During the Thanksgiving Eve service at the church, parishioners stand and give testimonials to the power of God in their lives. This week, Carole and Bill Sachs counted their blessings and were thankful.

Emory United Methodist Church on Church Road offered Bill space to hold his art classes. Carole is grateful to have saved all the special-order vases in the shop.

"We get home at night and the phone is filled with messages," Bill said. Cards and letters, flowers and baked goods fill their house.

On the night of the fire, Lori and Steve McDermott, owners of Silver Arrow Fudge Shop in Ellicott City, served the Sachses TV dinners, peppermint tea and peanut butter-chocolate fudge "to die for," Carole said.

Surveying his inventory in the church hall, Bill is thankful for the great blessings in his life. "This is just stuff," he said. "I've got my grandkids."

His granddaughter Sarah Thompson, 6, nearly died of E. coli poisoning in September. His grandsons Ryan, 8, and Daniel, 5, had been hospitalized for the same infection.

Lisa and Bill recall the night in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital when she was told that her daughter was not expected to live through the night.

And then, in the middle of the night, the level of toxins in her body began to fall.

"I think it was prayer," Bill said. People from all over the world were praying for his grandchildren, he says, including Buddhist monks in California. Someone who worked at The Nature Nook, next door to Spring House Designs, arranged for the monks to pray morning and night for the children. The Nature Nook also was damaged in the fire.

The fire sale will continue from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, tomorrowand Wednesday, and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. First Evangelical Lutheran Church is at Frederick and Chatham Roads.


In honor of Veterans Day, Junior Girl Scout Troop 1748 of Ellicott City visited patients at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in downtown Baltimore.

The girls baked cookies and made thank-you cards to share.

Scouts included Emily Adams, Kim Banda, Katelyn Canizaro, Kriti Gandhi, Michelle Grosso, Caitlin MacAnallen, Nishi Parekh, Brittany Pippen, Kelsey Plantas, Sara Rothleitner, Mackenzie Taylor and Katherine Watson.

Blue Ribbon school

Trinity School recently was recognized as a "Blue Ribbon School" by the U.S. Department of Education.

Sister Catherine Phelps, president of the school, Vice Principal Pat Whitman and Director of Development Eleanor Logue attended a ceremony in Washington last month and received a Blue Ribbon flag and a plaque.

Math winners

A team from Elkridge Landing Middle School placed third in the Maryland State Mathalon -- a middle-school math competition in which 45 schools participated.

Team members Dan Eschliman, Alison Tarwater, Ben Miller and Bob Cordwell were coached by parent Bill Cordwell.

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