CANTON: Nancy Stauffer didn’t have to time to summon painful old memories when she heard that one of the buildings at Ridgewood Castle Apartments was on fire.
Even now she doesn’t want to talk about it. Let’s just say she knows the heartbreak that comes after a fire.
So she sprang into action at 2 p.m. May 3 when she was told of the fire.
First, she called 911. Then employees who were working on various repairs at the 1717 Market Ave. North complex were called to the 18-unit building and sent in the smoke-filled hallways to bang on doors to get residents out.
Jim Archer was in Apartment No. 9 and didn’t even know about the fire until someone pounded on his door. He got out safely with some of his stuff.
That could have been the end of the story. Nobody was hurt; $600,000 in damage. There was a note in the newspaper the next day.
But Stauffer, Ken Ippolito, owner of the apartments and Kevin Radsick, an employee, made sure the kindness continued.
Stauffer, who started her shift at 7 a.m., continued to work through the night. She found many frightened residents.
“I didn’t really have anywhere to go,” said Carrie Helphinstine. “I was just petrified. I was scared. I thought I would have to live in my car.”
About 30 people live in the building. Most of them are working people who pay about $600 or $650 a month in rent. Helphinstine is a certified nursing assistant and was with her partner, Jeff Singletary, at the doctor to have her foot injury treated. She has been out of work for weeks.
One of Stauffer’s first calls was to the Red Cross. They could help with food and shelter, and she said they were very helpful. But they said pets were not allowed. Workers knew of eight dogs and cats and at least one bird and got them all out safely. Residents faced being separated from their pets and had no idea where to put the animals.
Ippolito, who already faced a loss of $600,000 or more to repair the building decided it was time to spend more money.
He spent an estimated $5,000 to buy rooms for 12 of the residents at the Red Roof Inn, a place that welcomes animals. Three more families were given apartments that were vacant elsewhere and three families simply left and are on their own.
“Fires happen,” said Ippolito. “Bad things out of your control happen in life and what we did here was we took a negative, a catastrophic negative, and we transformed it into a positive by helping the lives and living conditions of 16 residents.”
Stauffer, whose normal duties are to collect rents and arrange for repairs to be made, began contacting all of the residents and finding accommodations. In addition to arranging to open three vacant apartments, she also made arrangements at the hotel, helped the residents find their basic needs and keep everybody safe.
“A lot of these people don’t even have cars so I had to drive them,” she said.
Then she remembered her husband. That was handled in a quick trip to North Canton.
“I went home, laid some Kentucky Fried [chicken] on the table and said, ‘I gotta go,’ ” she said.
It was 10 p.m. before she quit — a 15-hour day.
“Nancy deserves all the credit,” said Ippolito. “She’s the one who put 12 residents into Ridgewood. She put them into the hotel.”
But she seemed a bit embarrassed to take too much credit.
“This is all a team effort,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without help from everybody.”
Jim Archer had praise for everybody. He recently moved to Canton from Newcomerstown because the Hall of Fame City has public transportation. He had no place to turn. “I don’t have family in the area, I don’t know what I would have done.”
Radsick said that’s the fate of many apartment fire victims. They get a few days of temporary shelter and then they are on their own for housing.
Instead, Ippolito put them in the pet-friendly hotel. After three days, he found them newly remodeled apartments in his other properties that otherwise would have gone to new customers. That’s where they are now.
“He did not have to do that,” Radsick said. “Most owners would have let them go to Red Cross. That’s what most owners do.”
Ippolito, who likes to use sports bromides to explain his ideas, said it was more than a business deal.
“It’s more about all of them than the money,” he said.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or email@example.com. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.