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Rick's Place

Anne Polta / Tribune Rick Schirmers sits Thursday in the sun porch of his home in Willmar. Friends recently started a GoFundMe campaign to help Schirmers, 63, stay in his house.

WILLMAR — For Rick Schirmers, there's no place like home — the refrigerator covered with family photos, the sun porch overlooking a row of bird feeders, the kitchen where his wife, Lynette, enjoyed canning every summer.

Schirmers, 63, wants to stay there but financial pressures have led to an uncertain future.

Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in his 20s, he now uses a wheelchair and had to stop working in 1993. The family expected that Lynette would always be there as the caregiver and breadwinner. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After an eight-year battle, she died in 2010 at age 56.

The loss was devastating. "She was the girl of my dreams," Schirmers said.

Funeral and legal expenses wiped out the couple's remaining finances. Now Schirmers faces the loss of his house unless he can find enough money to help keep him at home.

Friends recently stepped forward with a GoFundMe campaign. They hope to raise $143,000, enough to enable him to stay in the house for up to the next 10 years.

RELATED: On GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/save-ricks-place

"This is the best possible of alternatives right here," said Robin Olson, one of the volunteers helping to organize the campaign.

Without the house, Schirmers would have to move into a nursing home or some other form of institutional care, Olson said. "We want to enable him to stay here. Financial pressure should not be the reason why Rick enters the nursing home."

The couple built the modest rambler in 1981. Their two children grew up there. As Schirmers' disease progressed, adaptations were made: ceiling lifts, a ramp in the garage, an outdoor ramp to the patio. They enlarged and remodeled the kitchen to make it wheelchair-accessible.

Now that he's alone, Schirmers has daily assistance from home care workers and Meals on Wheels.

The current arrangement is "as good as it can get," he said. "I'm well-taken care of."

But more than the practical advantages, it's where his heart is.

When he goes into the kitchen each day, he's reminded that his wife chose all the colors. "The house has been pretty much unchanged since Lynette passed away," he said. "I like it. It's all of our memories. It's the only way I can remember the kids growing up."

With his son and daughter-in-law living just a few houses away, his grandsons visit often.

The house also has become the focal point for informal gatherings of others who, like him, are grieving the death of a spouse. The meetings started as an outgrowth of a grief support group at Calvary Lutheran Church that Schirmers began attending after his wife died. Olson, who also had lost his wife, attended with him and the two men often had supper together afterward.

One night Schirmers invited the whole group to his house for dinner. Soon it became a weekly event. Members began referring to it as "Rick's place."

Olson called it "virtually a ministry" that has been meaningful to everyone who participates. "We can have serious conversations. We can have light-hearted conversations," he said.

All of this would end if he has to leave his house, Schirmers said.

Although some people have advised him to accept the inevitable, he said he's not ready.

"It's the last thing I have left. I just don't want to surrender," he said.

Multiple options have been explored to enable Schirmers to keep the house but most were ruled out by legal, financial or practical barriers, Olson said.

Fundraising is "our best hope," he said. The money will go into a fund managed by a third party and disbursed to cover basic expenses.

In the month since the GoFundMe campaign was launched, nearly $5,000 has been raised. The campaign needs to reach its goal by summer so it's urgent to spread the word, Olson said.

"We're hoping that this will have some success," he said. "We've had some very generous donors. The bottom line is we need more numbers. We need many more people giving small amounts."

Olson said he's optimistic that donors will respond.

"I don't believe this is inevitable" that Schirmers will have to leave his house, he said. "There's an opportunity and we're going to continue to pursue it."

On GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/save-ricks-place

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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