ELLINGTON TWP. — Robert L. “Woody” Wood has been hit hard – more than once – this year, following the Jan. 29 death of his wife and the April 5 loss of his home, dog and belongings to fire.
But folks around Michigan’s Thumb area are fighting back with multiple fundraisers for the 77-year-old U.S. Navy veteran – with whatever they can muster.
“I’ve had people come up and give me $1 or $2 and say ‘I can’t give you much, but this is something.’ You know what? It helps. Every little bit, it adds up – and it makes him feel better,” said Anne Snell, 43, Wood’s daughter and a hairstylist at Grondin’s Hair Center in Caro, which hosts a “Cut-a-Thon” Sunday to help Wood.
Visitors to Grondin’s Hair Center, 1534 W. Caro Rd., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday receive a discounted price on a haircut, and the cost of the haircut and whatever else they contribute goes to Wood, who had no home insurance when his mobile home burned to the ground.
The blaze was less than 10 weeks after the death of Wood’s wife of 43 years, Kathleen Wood.
Grondin’s Hair Center is typically closed Sundays, but Snell and four co-workers – Laura Crossno, Courtney Perkins, Kimberly LaBerge and Connie Wright – will volunteer their time to help Wood, a retiree who worked as a tree trimmer for about 50 years. An April 17 spaghetti dinner fundraiser at The Kingswood Outfield, along M-46 west of Kingston, also raised funds for Wood, who lives with his son and daughter-in-law, Brad and Melissa Roberts of Novesta Township, following the fire.
“It’s pretty tough,” Wood said of his recent troubles. “It wouldn’t have been so bad, but when my wife was in bad health, the (home) insurance lapsed and everything was a total loss,” Wood said. “My wife handled paying that before she got real sick, and it was kind of touchy if you asked about it.”
Wood escaped the mobile home at 2138 Keilitz Rd., north of Shabbona Road, wearing only a pair of pajama bottoms.
“I had $1,100 in my bedroom in a book, for my wife’s memorial, and I can’t even have that now,” Wood said. “I couldn’t get it out. You couldn’t get in there. I had just got paid the day before the fire, and had another $400 in my wallet, but I couldn’t even get my wallet, or my Levi’s, because the fire was that bad.”
Wood became aware of the blaze after smelling smoke on his dog, a feist named Buster Brown, on the morning of April 5.
“The dog, it was my wife’s dog and that’s the last thing she asked before she died — she said ‘Take good care of Buster,’” Wood said.
“And he slept with me and everything. That morning I smelled him. I thought ‘Oh man,’ I saw (the fire). I couldn’t even get my money out of the china cabinet because (the fire) was going so good.
“I got the dog and then I tripped. You couldn’t see nothing.”
Buster Brown then broke free and, afraid, ran back into the bedroom, Wood said.
“I couldn’t see where he was,” Wood said. “Once you’re in that smoke, you’re not going to be in there very long if you’re going to be alive.”
Snell said family members haven’t determined what caused the blaze. These days, Wood lives with his son and daughter-in-law, Brad and Melissa Roberts of Novesta Township. “It’s been hard just because my mother passed away in January and all her memories are gone,” Snell said. “We were supposed to have a memorial service in May and take care of her ashes, but her ashes are gone (due to the fire).
“(Wood) promised my mom before she passed to take care of her dog. Well, her dog passed in the fire, so that killed him, because he blamed himself. Though it’s not his fault.”
Wood, who receives Social Security disability checks, said the payments shrank following his wife’s death.
“Everything he owns was in (the mobile home that burned),” Brad Roberts said.
“It’s hard to watch him go through this; he’s too old to be going through this,” Snell said. Wood, a 1957 graduate of Marlette High School, was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy from 1957 to 1961. He has three children: Snell, Roberts and William Wood of Akron; seven grandchildren; and various buddies who play cards.
“He goes all over to play cards,” Snell said. “He loves his euchre.” Wood said he’s in search of a licensed electrician who might give him a deal on connecting temporary electrical service at the scene of the fire.
“I don’t want it for nothing, but maybe I can get a break on it,” Wood said.
Snell said she’s trying to ensure Wood receives proper benefits as a Navy veteran.
“He keeps busy,” Brad Roberts said. “He’s got so many appointments lately; he’s been running a lot. Doctors’ appointments, veterans’ appointments and all that. We’re keeping him fed good and everything.”
Those who don’t wish to get their hair cut Sunday at Grondin’s Hair Center can help Wood simply by stopping there to make a donation.
Some who visited the April 17 spaghetti dinner at The Kingswood Outfield merely wanted to help the cause.
“A lot of people came there and didn’t eat, but they donated,” Snell said. “They were people we didn’t even know. … All donations went to him, and it lifted his spirits, to realize people really care.”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org