1A Neighbors open hearts, home to burned-out family

By Christina Killion Valdez

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

ST. CHARLES — The view from Karen and Mike Ellsworth’s yard overlooks the charred remains of Jay and Cathie Lukowicz’s home.

"I didn’t even look," said Cathie as the families came together at the Ellsworth’s to celebrate Thanksgiving.

She had everything she was grateful for right there.


Fire broke out in the Lukowicz’s tuck-under garage the morning of Nov. 15. Ten-year-old Jonathan Lukowicz is credited for waking his mother and sister after discovering the blaze thanks to the insistent barking of the family’s dog, Bug. The family escaped minutes before an explosion in the garage sent flames shooting through the bedroom where Cathie and Abbie, 14, were sleeping. Jay Lukowicz was in northern Wisconsin helping winterize his father’s home.

"I’m thankful that we’re alive, number one," Cathie said.

The sentiment was reiterated by all of her family members, yet it was only the first on a list of things they are grateful for.

"I’m also grateful to live in a small community like St. Charles, where there are so many people with big hearts," Cathie said.

In the freezing cold days after the fire, large groups of volunteers, including the FFA, a Confirmation class, the children’s friends, groups from Rochester, even the secretary from the high school, turned out to help clean and take inventory.

"It was so cold pens wouldn’t write," Jay said.

Yet the volunteers stayed. "You think you’re alone in a situation like this, but you’re really not," Cathie said.

Among the many friends who’ve provided both physical and emotional support, are the Ellsworths.


"My home has been theirs since this happened," Karen Ellsworth said. And because it’s so close, her house also became the place where donations were collected and volunteers could warm up.

So for Thanksgiving, which she usually spends with just her husband and daughters, Mariah, 16, and Taylor and Shannon, 12, Karen was grateful to have a house filled with the warmth of friendship and love.

"I’m thankful that we can all be together and enjoy a great meal," Karen said.

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