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Dream home: Dozens of volunteers renovate cancer patient's house in eight days

Dean Larimer of Thompson, N.D., looks over the dozens of signatures from volunteers who helped renovate his home for him and his wife, Kerri-Lynn, who is battling metastatic melanoma. (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 3
A volunteer puts down wood floors in Dean and Kerri-Lynn Larimer's house in Thompson, N.D. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Volunteers help renovate Dean and Kerri-Lynn Larimer's home in Thompson, N.D., while Kerri-Lynn receives cancer treatments. (Submitted Photo)3 / 3

THOMPSON, N.D.—Kerri-Lynn Larimer said she always wanted wood floors for her dream home, said her husband, Dean.

Between 75 and 100 volunteers spent eight days giving the 44-year-old mother of two boys from Thompson that dream house while she was away at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., receiving care for metastatic melanoma. The cancer patient had no idea what was happening at her house, but Dean said her face glowed with happiness during the reveal Sept. 30.

"I would call it a dream home for my wife and I," Dean said. "It's what she wanted. If it makes her happy, it makes me happy."

The effort to renovate the home was spearheaded by family friend Gina Roller. She sent dozens of text messages to locals asking if they would help put the floor in and paint the house. The goal was to make the home peaceful and bright, she said.

Soon, dozens of people showed up offering to do whatever they could to the home, Roller said. Some brought donations since they couldn't help, and a company donated a furnace.

Others who didn't receive Roller's text message heard from others about the project and decided to pitch in, she said.

"We had a lot more volunteers show up then we would have ever expected," Roller said. "It was amazing. ... People just kept coming and coming."

The University of Minnesota-Crookston baseball team, for which the Larimer's son, Trey, plays, helped move items into the basement last week. The Larimers also have a son named Malek.

The work spanned more than "eight very long days," said Nathan Berberich, a family friend who helped install the flooring. Though it was hard work, doing the project was fun, and everyone worked well together, Berberich said.

"It's almost like it was a crew that had been working together—a well-oil machine—for years," he said. "It's something special. You don't see this happen a lot."

'Out for the community'

The Larimers have been an integral part of the Thompson community, especially in high school sports, their friends said. The moved 16 years ago to the small city of 1,000 people that is about 10 miles southwest of Grand Forks, where they previously lived. Dean has taught for Thompson Public Schools since 1997 and has been involved in athletics. Kerri-Lynn is a social worker who helped launch softball for the high school.

Kerri-Lynn makes others smile and is easy to connect and make friends with, Roller said. The Larimers have had a major impact on children, Berberich said.

"They are always out for the community," he said. "They love everybody. That's why when the text went out, I knew I wanted to be a part of this."

Doctors diagnosed Kerri-Lynn with metastatic melanoma, a type of skin cancer, in November.

Dean had planned on replacing the floor with wood, which he purchased, so Kerri-Lynn would have an easier time getting around the home. He knew some volunteers were coming in to install the wood flooring.

But he said he was in total awe to see everything else the volunteers did—they painted the walls, put in new trim, added outlets, gutted and replaced the bathroom, updated lighting fixtures and much more.

Money that was donated covered the cost of the flooring, Roller said.

People still have continued to donate funds. Kerri-Lynn's friends from Winnipeg, where she went to high school, started a GoFundMe page Sept. 23 to cover medical expenses. More than 160 people donated a total of $23,000, surpassing the $15,000 goal as of Monday.

The community is close-knit, Roller said, adding residents didn't need to know the Larimers before jumping in to help with the project.

A sign hangs in the living room that says, "You are loved." It is signed by the volunteers who helped renovate the home.

Dean said that sign likely will never come down.

"I don't think I want to move to anywhere else," he said. "I think this is where I want to be."

The renovated home has helped Kerri-Lynn as she battles cancer, Dean said, adding it makes her happy knowing this is the home—the one she always wanted—she will live in for the rest of her life.

"She'll be here and she'll be in peace," he said. "It means everything."

To donate to the GoFundMe page, go to gofundme.com/help-kerrilynn-thompson-larimer.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248
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