Through all their ups and downs — her kidney disease that led to a transplant in 1991, some lean years of running a dairy farm — Judy and David Noteboom have kept a positive focus.
“All our lives we’ve been thankful,” David said.
Chances are, the Notebooms’ thankfulness is at an all-time high as Thanksgiving 2004 approaches. Their gratitude goes out to folks in the communities of Spencer, where the Notebooms live, and neighboring Van Etten, located just over the Tioga County line in Chemung County. With these neighbors’ assistance, the Notebooms have rallied nicely from a devastating loss last winter.
In the mid-evening of Feb. 6, the couple was nearing bedtime in their two-story, 100-year-old farmhouse, where they had resided since 1989. They heard a funny noise in the kitchen, and David discovered that a fire had begun in the wall. He tried in vain to douse the flames but was forced to call 911; he and Judy barely had time to grab some personal possessions and flee into the cold winter night.
“It’s just amazing how fast it spread,” David said, acknowledging that had not he and Judy been awake, the results could have been much more tragic. The Notebooms also caught a good break with their 12-year-old cat, Cookie, who was found by a fireman in the basement wet and shaken, but basically unharmed. Today, David said, “She’s doing great.”
But the house was declared a total loss, and what was left of it was torn down March 25 — a final jolt of reality. “It was a sad, sad day,” David said.
“It’s not the house, it’s your home that’s gone. We did Christmas there, Thanksgiving there,” remarked Judy, 58. “For the first couple of weeks you’re in shock. All of a sudden you say ‘Well, we’ve got to decide what we’re going to do.'”
The Notebooms hadn’t been required to travel far for temporary living quarters: They moved right across the street where David’s mother, Freda, resides in her mobile home. “You’ve heard of kids moving back home to their parents? Here was a 61-year-old, moving back with an 85-year-old,” David quipped.
Relocating from Fisher Settlement Road was not an appealing option — after all, the Notebooms had lived the past 34 years overall there, raising their three daughters and running their dairy farm. So they resolved to once again reside on their 16-acre property, as near as possible to where their previous house had stood.
Although a fair percentage of the damage was covered by insurance, this did not compensate for the entire loss. To help make up the gap, community support was in abundance. “It started the night of the fire,” David said. “The next day people were coming by with things, like clothes,” Judy added.
Two benefit events were held at Van Etten’s St. Pius X Church — one of six faith communities in the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s parishes — where Judy is a parishioner. A shower and luncheon was organized by St. Pius X’s Altar/Rosary Society, and a “pampered chef party” later took place at the church. Those doings were followed up by a fundraising breakfast for the Notebooms at Spencer Fire Department.
Judy and David noted that supporters of these events included Catholics as well as a large volume of non-Catholic denominations. David, who is Presbyterian, said folks in Spencer and Van Etten don’t let religious differences get in the way of developing community spirit.
“We always try and make friends. We enjoy people. I don’t know how else to say that,” David said.
In addition to the benefit events, the Notebooms received private donations from well-wishers. When all this was pooled together with insurance money, the Notebooms were able to afford a modular home. The house arrived from the factory in April and was placed on a foundation on the Notebooms’ property — “almost in the exact identical spot” as the house they lost, David said. He and Judy moved into their new three-bedroom abode on May 14.
Even at that point, the thoughtful gestures didn’t stop. A surprise housewarming party was thrown on July 4 by more than 50 family members and friends.
“You don’t know what to say. They brought towels, plants, blankets,” Judy said. Other items of note were a table that a neighbor built using a wooden beam from the former house, as well as a cake with pictures of the new house superimposed on it.
The acts of kindness this year have been so plentiful, David and Judy took out ads in local papers to pay tribute. “It’s overwhelming. We just say thank you — thanks to everybody,” David said. “There’s not a whole lot of other words, really,” his wife said.
David concluded that the only true way they can pay back the community is to help out folks in similar crises in the future — “pass it on, do for others what they did for us,” he said.
In the meantime, the Notebooms are eager to continue the tradition of hosting their large family get-together on Thanksgiving Day.
“It will be here — and we will be thankful,” Judy stated.