New house takes shape as volunteers help Van Zandt neighbor who nearly lost an arm during chain saw mishap

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 17, 2012 

If work stays on schedule, Jerry Bajema can move into his new house by mid- to late October.

A small army of volunteers stepped forward to help Bajema after the 67-year-old bachelor resident of Van Zandt nearly severed his left arm July 7 while using a chain saw to trim a tree.

While Bajema was in the hospital, neighbors went to his rustic house to check on his dogs and discovered the interior had been badly charred by a kitchen fire two years earlier. Bajema, a retired bricklayer and concrete worker who gets by on Social Security and odd jobs, never had the money to repair the damage.

Determined to help their helpful neighbor, friends and acquaintances vowed to repair or replace the house on Linnell Road, a rural lane east of Highway 9. They decided replacing it made better sense, and their effort took a major step forward Saturday, Sept. 15, when several professional crews and other volunteers framed Bajema's new house in a one-day blitz.

"It's amazing," Bajema said several days earlier. "I'm just blown away by the generosity of these people."

When contacted by Kara Deyerin, a neighbor of Bajema's, Meshak Drew agreed to volunteer as general contractor. Drew, the owner of Squalicum Builders, led a similar volunteer effort two summers ago to rebuild an elderly Bellingham man's house.

Through his contacts in the construction world, Drew found other people and companies willing to help, and people he didn't know have offered to contribute, too.

"A lot of people are very excited about it," Drew said. "It's going really well."

Workers poured the foundation Sept. 5. Once the house is framed, the roof will be finished. Plumbing, wiring and insulation will come next, followed by interior walls and exterior siding.

The 830-square-foot house, a bit smaller than Bajema's charred house, will overlook a pond that Bajema built on his nine-acre property.

"It's got a beautiful view," said Will Radecki, a newer neighbor of Bajema's who is coordinating the help of fellow neighbors and other individuals. "It's going to be really cool."

Organizers estimated they would need about $20,000 to complete the project. A garage sale and raffle in August netted $4,500, and Pass The Hat, a local charity that helps Whatcom County people hit by tragedy, contributed $1,000 early on.

Thanks to other donations from friends and strangers, more than half of the $20,000 has been raised. A benefit concert for Bajema will be held Sept. 23 at Mount Baker High School, and more fundraising is in the works.

Meanwhile a local sawmill is donating trim and wallboard, companies are offering discounts on labor and materials, and people have donated interior doors, a recliner, appliances and bookcases. Bajema is an avid reader, with thousands of books now in storage.

Drew praised county officials for processing the building permit in three days, so work could proceed before the warm weather turns wet and cold.

"They just went to bat for us," he said.

Surgeons at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle reattached Bajema's arm and inserted a metal plate to hold the pieces of bone together. Bajema wears a special brace to hold the fingers of his left hand up, so he can grip items. Another surgery later will reconfigure his tendons to give him fuller use of his wrist and hand. He's on the mend, but he can't do much to help build his new home.

"I was doing a little one-handed shoveling," Bajema said. "I can't do much with my left hand, yet."

For now, Bajema's days are filled with physical therapy, doctor appointments, medical bills and visits with neighbors. He's staying in a donated travel trailer on his land until the new house is done.

Once the house is finished, Bajema's old house will be burnt to the ground as a training exercise for Whatcom County Fire District No. 16. Such opportunities come along every year or two, said Elvin Kalsbeek, fire chief.

"We get a bunch of training out of it, and it helps them, too," he said.

LIST OF DONORS

Home Depot

Squalicum Builders

Lehmann's Maytag Home Appliance

Pro Build

Acme Drywall

Marrs Heating

Bodes Precast

H.D. Fowler

Livermore & Son

Cowden Gravel & Ready Mix

CB Wholesale

RE Store

Nolan's Roofing

Vander Griend Lumber

Mad Marmot Mills

Western Concrete Pumping

Ferndale Ready Mix & Gravel

Pass the Hat

Bellingham Millwork Supply

Orca Plumbing

Wilson Electric

Dejong Heating & Refrigeration

Super Flooring Construction

Hammertime Carpentry

Brown Dog Builders

Devine Interiors

VS Construction

Environmental Pest Control & Insulation

Two Dog Timberworks

Up-Rite Fence Co

Creative Stone Works

Remarkable Structures


TO HELP

• A "Love Thy Neighbor" benefit concert hosted by "Calico Hearts," comprised of Jerry Bajema's neighbors Wes, Laurie and Callie Lewis, will be held 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, at Mount Baker High School auditorium. Admission is $10 at the door; refreshments will follow.

• People can donate checks written to "Jerry Bajema Benefit Account" at any People's Bank branch.

• To donate at an Industrial Credit Union branch, write a check to "Catherine A. Frye," with the account ending in 577 and with "Home for Jerry" in the memo line.

• Online updates; ahomeforjerry.weebly.com.


WATCH VIDEO

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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