Mother of 16 copes with life after fire

by Dan Colton
for The Beacon

The strength of smiles is on display in this photo of the extended Schwarten family. Lucia is in the back row (with glasses atop her head), and 14 of her 16 children are gathered here. — Photo courtesy of Jeremy Schwarten

Lucia Schwarten said she’s been overwhelmed since her Town of Plymouth home burned down July 24 — overwhelmed by flow of necessary phone calls and paperwork, but also by the outpouring of community support.

“I can’t believe the outpouring of love and support and gifts,” Schwarten said. “It’s incredible. What an incredible community. I’m so blessed. I get overwhelmed. It’s incredible.”

Yet Schwarten is no stranger to commotion. The mother of 16 children (10 adopted), she said her fortieth grandchild is due soon, and the N6192 Riverview Road home destroyed by flames was a gathering place for the multitude of family members on the weekends, a place where memories were made over the company of loved ones and good food. Her husband Todd died in 2014 of a heart attack.

“It was the homestead,” Schwarten said, adding that she lived there for 17 years before losing it to the fire. “It was the place we all gathered quite often. Weekends were full, food aplenty.”

Engulfed by flames July 24, the Schwarten family home north of Plymouth was a total loss, but there were no injuries. –Beacon photo by Dan Colton

But now the home is gone, a charred shell of what was once a place of togetherness.

The fire started around 12:45 p.m. that afternoon. The blaze’s cause officially remains under investigation, and a member of the Sheboygan County Fire Investigation Unit declined to comment on its suspected origin.

But, as an official report continues to be compiled, Schwarten said investigators believe a gas leak caused the blaze.

The fire rapidly spread through the large, six-bedroom home. By the time local fire departments arrived, the house appeared to be totally engulfed. Explosions from the property were heard, and a plume of black smoke billowed high into the air.

Fire leapt from the windows and collapsed the walls and roof.

Schwarten and five of her children were living there at the time. When the fire broke out, three of her sons were inside, but each managed to escape without suffering injuries. One dog never made it out.

“We’re flying by the grace of God, that’s all I can say,” Schwarten said. “The children are traumatized and working through that, and I’m traumatized, but we just take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and look into the future with joyful hope, trusting that things are going to be good.”

A daughter-in-law of Schwarten’s went online and created a GoFundMe website to help raise relief funds. The effort’s initial goal was set at $20,000 — but by Friday Aug. 7 it had reached over $26, 000  as the goal was bumped up to $30,000.

Seeing the fundraiser’s success is another item on Schwarten’s “overwhelming” list. She said she can’t look at the website without experiencing a rush of emotion and gratitude.

And despite the loss of her home, Schwarten said the fire showed she still has much to be thankful for. She said her family has been treating her like a “queen,” and everyone relocated — “scattered around,” Schwarten said — to stay with other family members.

Everyone is safe and with a roof over their heads, she said.

“I told one of my kids, ‘I lost my house and our home, but with such a large family, we have many homes.’”

She plans to move with her younger children back to a home on the same street, just one house over.

It belongs to another member of her large, tight-knit family.

And, if possible, Schwarten said she hopes to rebuild on the property.

“I’m very much at peace right now, just trusting in God. He’s always had my back,” She said. “Always. …That’s where my mind is at.”

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