Nebraska Nice in ActionMar 02, 2020 09:32AM ● By Tamsen Butler
When Tom Marshall bought a modest farmhouse in Papillion, he didn’t have any intention of living there. He and his wife already owned a nice home in Hawaiian Village and had no desire to move. The property was simply going to be a new income stream. “I started remodeling the farmhouse with the intention of putting it up for rent,” Marshall said.
Then the floods came. The Marshalls’ house at Hawaiian Village sustained some damage. “It was only the basement that flooded,” he said. “We were lucky.”
Not everyone was nearly as fortunate as the Marshalls. Sharon Bernady has a clear memory of the day she and her husband, Tom, were forced to leave their beautiful cottage at Hanson Lake in Sarpy County. “No one came and knocked on our door to tell us to evacuate,” Sharon Bernady recalled. “Our neighbor said, ‘If I were you, I’d leave.’ The river kept getting higher and higher, but when I noticed the beavers were moving from their spot, I said to my husband, ‘We have to go.’ The water was getting so high, it reminded me of a bathtub overflowing.”
Bernady and her husband remotely watched the feed from a neighbor’s outdoor camera as the flood waters rose. “We watched that until it stopped working.” When the flooding finished, “The water made it all the way up to our roof.” Their house was right next to the dike, which eventually broke, and their house was gone.
The Bernadys stayed with their daughter for a little over a week. Trinity Lutheran, the church they attended, offered them the vacant parsonage to call home until they got on their feet. “We lived there for maybe two months,” she said, “but then the parsonage sold so we had to move again.”
Bernady was overwhelmed with the task of picking up and moving again after having experienced the traumatic loss of her home. “I couldn’t talk about this for a while. It was like a PTSD thing,” she explained.
An unexpected phone call from fellow Trinity Lutheran member Tom Marshall changed things quickly. “Tom called and said, ‘Do you need a place to live?’ What can you say about something like that? It was a God thing; He was present,” Bernady said.
The Bernadys moved into Marshall’s farmhouse, and the rest of their church family stepped in with furniture and other essentials. “The kitchen wasn’t finished in the farmhouse yet, so our church organized to get the kitchen done,” Bernady said. It wasn’t an extensive renovation, said Marshall. “We needed to put in kitchen cabinets and a sink.”
Trinity Lutheran had a crew led by member Gene Wallin that visited with flood victims and helped with the cleanup. “They called and asked if I wanted help with my basement and I told them, ‘There’s another family that can use your help,’” Marshall said. Wallin’s team made quick work of getting the farmhouse’s kitchen ready for the Bernadys.
“These guys were just amazing,” Marshall said, adding that he did eventually take them up on their offer to help with his flooded basement. “They spent five or six hours in my basement and then went across the street to help a widow who sustained a lot more damage to her home than I did.”
“We were all helping each other,” Bernady said. “It was stressful. It’s hard to deal with all the different flood resources, between the government and FEMA.” But even in the midst of disaster, Nebraska Nice comes to the rescue. The church family threw a benefit party for the Bernadys to help get them back on their feet. “They called it a ‘Flood Them With Love’ party. It was really neat. One of our friends brought us life jackets with our names on them as a joke and we all got a good laugh out of that,” she shared.
The Bernadys lived in the farmhouse for a few months—rent free—while they searched for a home to purchase. Buying a house proved difficult, as the housing market was tight at the time, with few suitable houses available. “We had a hard time finding a house to buy and wound up buying a house from someone my husband knew from grade school. We named the new house ‘Roxbury.’” (Moving so many times was disorienting, Bernady said, and naming the various homes reduced confusion and grounded them a bit. lt’s also the builder’s house plan name for it.)
Today, the beach cottage that was supposed to be their retirement home is gone, replaced by two feet of flood sand. “It’s just a sandy beach now,” Bernady said. “The area looks like a war zone. Engineers are looking into whether or not they’ll repair the dike…They don’t know if they will. If they do, we may rebuild. It’s a beautiful place when it’s not flooded.”
Though they lost the home they’d had for six years, Bernady learned a lot about Nebraska Nice. “People in the flood were so appreciative of all the help. We wouldn’t have survived it without our church family,” she said.
She tries to keep a sense of humor about their loss and instead focus on God’s hand in their predicament. “My daughter called the other day and asked if she could borrow my rolling pin and cookie cutters. I had to tell her, ‘Honey, those are down the river.’”
This article was printed in the March/April 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.