Seventy children have found a home over the years at Willie Dean Anderson’s house in Cayce.
In April, that home went up in flames, with 104-year-old Anderson and decades worth of memories inside it.
Anderson hasn’t seen her house since she was taken safely from it that afternoon.
She hasn’t seen her crumbled kitchen, with blackened teapots jammed into a charred china cabinet. She hasn’t seen the white outlines where framed pictures once hung in her living room on the now soot-stained walls. She hasn’t seen the tattered Bible still sitting in a rocking chair, a page of Ezekiel exposed to the disaster area.
“This is a real barbecue in here,” said her granddaughter Stephanie Kelly, standing outside the door that dozens of foster children had walked through during the 15 years “Mama Dean” welcomed them. “It was very intense.”
Now 105, Anderson will return to her home in a few months, thanks to a rebuilding project by Central South Carolina Habitat for Humanity.
The day of the fire, Habitat had been finishing work on another house just a few doors down from Anderson.
“We had to step up and take on the responsibility of cleaning this up and getting her back in her home,” said Chuck Applegate, a Habitat employee.
Volunteers began tearing down the walls inside Anderson’s house on Monday, among them, some of the Cayce firefighters who had tackled the blaze.
The front part of the house, where Anderson’s bedroom, living room and a few other rooms had been, will be rebuilt. The back part of the house, where the fire originated in an electrical box, will be demolished and a deck built in its place.
The rooms that took the brunt of the flames were the ones Anderson had added onto her home to accommodate more children. She fostered children and adopted a number of them from 1980 to 1995, Kelly said.
Kelly remembers one Christmas Eve when a social worker knocked on her grandmother’s door, and in walked five little girls. Mama Dean walked them straight inside and gave them baths and clothes.
When her child-caring days were over, Anderson turned to caring for elderly friends and relatives, though by then she was reaching into her 80s and 90s.
Now, she’s staying with Kelly, still feisty and always looking for some clothes to mend and fold, her granddaughter said.
“It’s really sad that we have to go through this,” Kelly said. “But I look at it as a bright side ... because the community support we’re getting, it’s just overwhelming. It keeps putting a smile on my face.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
How to help
Chipotle restaurants in Columbia are holding a fundraiser all day Thursday to benefit Central South Carolina Habitat for Humanity. Fifty percent of proceeds from four Columbia restaurants will be donated to Habitat projects, including the rebuild of Willie Dean Anderson’s home in Cayce.
To participate, mention Habitat for Humanity at the register at these locations:
▪ 619 Gervais St.
▪ 6070 Garners Ferry Road
▪ 4840 Forest Drive, Suite 16
▪ 276 Harbison Blvd., Unit 40