Community comes together

By on April 22, 2011

Photo: The Elburn community has come together to find a new home for the Anderson family: father, Steve, mother, Cari, and their three sons, Sam, Max and Jake. Courtesy Photo

Local residents help family of Iraq veteran facing long line of hardships
by Keith Beebe
ELBURN—Hard luck stories are far from uncommon during this time of poor economic stability, but “hard luck” wouldn’t even begin to describe what Elburn resident Steve Anderson and his family have gone through during the last six years.

“Nightmarish” would be a more apt description of the events that have recently taken place in their lives.

Anderson retired from the Army in May 2010 after suffering various spinal and head injuries brought on from three separate occasions in Iraq in which a military vehicle he was traveling in was struck by a detonating Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

And then on March 5 of this year, Anderson’s wife, Cari, was diagnosed with a golf ball-sized tumor on her brain stem, which has left her with facial paralysis on the right side of her face, as well as the inability to hear out of her right ear or voluntarily blink her right eye.

Just prior to his wife’s diagnosis, Steve discovered that the house he rents in Elburn with his wife and their three children—Sam, Max and Jake—was being foreclosed on.

“The landlord was pocketing the money (I paid him each month) instead of paying the mortgage,” Anderson said. “I have to assume he’s been pocketing the cash since last May. I had no idea that the house was being foreclosed on until someone tried to serve me with papers, thinking I was the owner of the house. That threw me for a loop.”

Anderson’s landlord, Robert Heywood, said he has tried to make it easier on Anderson by allowing him to be late on rent payment.

“He’s had to deal with his wife’s health, and I am currently out of work myself,” he said. “Steve’s a great guy and a hero to this country, and I wish him the best.”

Anderson said Heywood has indeed been understanding about late rent payments since hearing about Cari’s diagnosis.

“I know it’s kind of messed up, because he’s not actually paying the mortgage, but because I am under lease, I have to pay him anyway,” Anderson said. “So he’s at least been understanding.”

The foreclosure means Steve and his family will have to find a new home while Cari continues to recover after having the brain tumor removed. The recovery process is expected to take between six months and year, and even then it’s uncertain whether or not she’ll recover the hearing in her right ear or control of her right eye.

Steve, a 1992 St. Charles High School graduate, enlisted in the Marines during his senior year of high school. He met Cari at what was then the Colonial Cafe in Geneva, and they began dating in February 1992, eight months before Steve left for basic training and his first overseas tour in Japan. After two years apart, the couple was married in January 1995.

Steve left the Marines with a rank of Corporal (E-4) in October 1996 after his request for a more stable assignment in Naples, Italy, was denied. He and Cari then bought a house in DeKalb, and Steve worked at Jorgensen Steel in Schaumburg for the next seven years. During this time, Steve and Cari had their three boys.

Return to service
“(We) were living the American dream just like any family,” Anderson said. “When 9/11 happened, I had a mind to get back into the military, but it wasn’t until the U.S. invasion of Iraq that I became serious enough to get myself back in shape to go back in. I left a $60,000-a-year job, trained my butt off and joined the Army in September 2003. I simply felt an overwhelming obligation to serve again.”

Anderson said it’s difficult to speak about his injuries sustained while serving in Iraq, because he feels the Army betrayed him.

“My first injury unofficially came in May 2005 during a convoy from FOB Normandy,” Anderson said. “An IED exploded in front of my vehicle that day—the day I gave my gunner a break and sat in the turret instead. I saw the explosion in what seemed like slow motion.”

A piece of shrapnel flew from the bomb and struck Anderson in the helmet, causing his head to snap back. He said he literally felt nothing with all the adrenaline coursing through his veins. The blow left no visible wounds on Anderson, but he felt severe pain in his head and neck.

“I was not seen by a doctor, but rather by a medic who happened to be my best friend. He cleared me so as to continue the mission,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s second run-in with an IED was in Taji, Iraq, when a bomb went off underneath his truck, knocking him unconscious for a short period of time. Anderson has back problems as a result of this blast.

“The gunner in the vehicle behind me was struck by shrapnel, and again I felt guilty for saying anything (about my injury),” he said. “Having a friend that was visibly injured made it clear to me that what I was feeling was minor by comparison, and so I didn’t make too much of a fuss. Again, because of the team having medics on hand, a quick exam was performed but not documented, and I continued my mission without complaint. Had I been seen by an actual doctor, I am sure I would have been awarded a Purple Heart.”

According to Anderson, both injuries needed several surgeries to fix, but because of documentation reasons, he does not receive benefits that would have been entitled to him otherwise.

“You can see why I felt betrayed,” he said. “I was also hit by a third IED, but by that time, I was so screwed up (that) I no longer cared whether I lived or died. After eight months of living in hell and seeing so many people killed, I believe it was natural to be depressed a little.”

A community responds
With Cari’s diagnosis, as well as Anderson’s living arrangement in jeopardy, Mike Davis, a friend of Steve and Cari’s, reached out to Pastor Gary Augustine of the Elburn Hill Church and asked if there was anything Augustine could do to help the struggling family. Davis had read Augustine’s articles in the Elburn Herald and thought he might be somebody willing to help out.

Davis and Augustine then met over breakfast and coffee that Thursday morning. After hearing the Anderson’s story, Augustine went to Delnor Hospital that day and prayed with Cari about the surgery.

“We then began looking at what we might be able to do (to help their situation),” Augustine said. “Of course, raising money was part of the issue. One of the things we did right away was bring meals to the family three times a week while Cari was in the hospital recovering. Mike Davis was also trying to provide some meals, too, and he had a couple of restaurants help out with that. He and his wife brought meals over for the kids, and so it’s been like that three or four times a week for the last month.”

According to Augustine, part of the Anderson family’s financial concerns stemmed from the fact that the bulk of the family’s income, provided by Cari, would be unavailable while Cari was on disability. Augustine said he and Steve sat down to try and figure out if they could get some applications for the state programs for medical stuff and also for social security disability while Cari is recovering.

Augustine’s position on the Elburn Chamber of Commerce and, more specifically, his connections with the Elburn American Bank and Trust Co., led to his meeting with Brian Hansen, who was also very interested in helping the Andersons by finding them a home to buy or rent.

“What we need is for everyone in the community to step up with a house for this family,” Hansen said. “We’re doing everything we can to help him out on our end.”

Augustine said an individual came along and helped Steve and Cari get out of a few things that they were committed to financially, freeing up some money so that the family could look into buying or at least moving into another place. The individual who helped the Andersons prefers to keep his involvement private.

Davis, who was a catalyst for this immense effort to help the Andersons, also called Rich Temmerman of Midtown Martial Arts in Elburn about doing some kind of benefit for the family. Davis’ son takes martial arts classes from Temmerman with one of Anderson’s sons.

Midtown will host a fundraiser for the Anderson family on Saturday, April 30, from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. on the second floor of the Elburn Community Center, 525 N. Route 47. The fundraiser will consist of a black belt demonstration by Temmerman. Midtown can be reached by calling (630) 365-2344.

“I can’t say enough about the people who have helped us out,” Anderson said. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”

How you can help
Midtown Martial Arts
black belt demonstration/fundraiser
Saturday, April 30
3:30 to 4:45 p.m.
second floor of the
Elburn Community Center,
525 N. Route 47, Elburn
(630) 365-2344

Elburn Hill Church
pastor Gary Augustine
can be reached at
(630) 365-9064