Miracles happen; ordinary folks become heroes

Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

Carolyn Kitchens sat in her pickup on a snowy January night in 1998, watching as the last wall fell into the flames that engulfed her home. Everything burned except her grandmother’s cast-iron stove, which glowed red-hot in the moonlight.

Kitchens lived in a farm house between Tolar and House and drove back and forth — an 80-mile round trip — to work at Kelley’s Bar & Grill in Clovis. The patrons there heard about the fire.

“There were about eight of us sitting around the table drinking beer, and somebody came up with the idea that we should build her a house,” said carpenter Jimmy Urioste.

The men called Kitchens over and told her that if she used her insurance money, $25,000, to buy materials they would build her a new home. She started to cry. “I knew they weren’t joking around; they never joked about my house burning down,” Kitchens said.

Among the volunteers were electricians, roofers, plumbers, carpenters and concrete men. Roofer Steve Mullins had a boss who told him if he should go help put the roof on Kitchens’ house. The boss went out to teach the other roofers how to roof, and ended up being out there every weekend.

The builders saw no reason to explain themselves beyond saying that Kitchens “is a special lady” and “this is about friends helping friends, and having a good time doing it.” Some didn’t really know others until they met on the roof.

They did have disagreements about how to do things, and some days there were six self-appointed supervisors at the same time.

At Cannon Air Force Base, Bob Shober, a civilian employee there, spread the word of Kitchen’s plight. Eighteen off-duty airmen later got together on a weekend and in those two days had sheet rocked the entire house. Air Force Master Sgt. Tony Harrell said “It’s one of the things I’ve gotten accustomed to out here.” Whenever the volunteers were stumped about a difficult aspect of construction, someone always knew someone who knew someone who was an expert.

Over 14 months of weekends, through a bitter winter, a windy spring, a hot summer, someone always showed up. From her brother’s nearby house, Kitchens served up chicken-fried steaks, hams, roasts, with all the extras. Longtime friend Ben Barrow sent barbecue from his restaurant. Food was the only compensation the workers would accept.

Her sons Lance and Bryce Dial; and daughter-in-law Monica Dial came from Dallas and did all the painting and wallpapering and put down the tile.

When the job was finished, Kitchens found it hard to come up with an adequate thank-you. She arranged for each of her 41 new best friends to get a Red Cross Good Neighbor award. Then she invited everyone to a barbecue in the shade of the elm trees beside her new 1800 square foot house.

Material of her house ended up costing $33,000. Asked where she got the other $10,000, Kitchens said “Visa!” The Albuquerque Journal did a big story and had a 6×10 inch color photo of the crew and new home in their May 28, 2000 issue. Later the Reader’s Digest wrote it up in their Sept. 2001 issue.

Here in 2005 Carolyn Kitchens is now fighting cancer. It’s a rare kind. She has had one chemo treatment, and has several more to go, but her spirit is good.

One of her sons from Dallas was here in Clovis Oct. 14 – 15 with his band playing for dances to raise money to help his mother with medical expenses. His mother really got a kick out of her son calling his band “Lance Dial and the Tolar Road Band.”

Don McAlavy is the Curry County historian. E-mail:
dmcalavy@telescoplab.com