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Benefit planned for victims of December Round Lake fire

ROUND LAKE -- When fire ravaged through their trailer house on the morning of Dec. 12, Bill and Maureen Swain and their 15-year-old son, Jimmy, lost not just their home, but all of their belongings and their beloved five-year-old Pomeranian. A cat initially thought to have died in the fire was able to escape.

In the first week after the fire, the family stayed at a couple of different motels in Worthington before returning to Round Lake to live with a couple of Bill's nephews. Now, they're hoping to find a place of their own in the community and start to rebuild their lives.

Natives of the East Coast, the Swains have lived in Round Lake for the past decade. It was the kind of small town where they wanted to raise Jimmy. Little did they realize how a small town in southwest Minnesota rallies around its own.

Immediately after word spread of the fire, Round Lake-Brewster High School secretary Louise Koppen said students and faculty began organizing clothing and furnishings drives.

"We had a clothing drive here for (Jimmy Stinger) and his parents," Koppen said. "We got them new clothing and some gently used clothing."

Donations poured in from Jimmy's classmates, as well as from community residents.

"The community has just been wonderful," Koppen said. "We had some community members with furniture in storage and they donated that -- dishes and cooking utensils, too, things we just take for granted."

After the Christmas break, Koppen rounded up the high school faculty to plan a more formal benefit for the Swain family. Those plans include hosting a pork sandwich supper during next Tuesday night's boys' basketball game against Harris-Lake Park. The food will be served from 5 to 8:30 p.m. in the lobby of the high school gym in Round Lake.

Through the generosity of local businesses and Round Lake-Brewster students and staff, all of the food was donated for the meal, meaning that all of the money raised Tuesday night will go directly to the Swain family.

JBS donated 50 pounds of pork, the Pit Stop supplied the paper goods, Fareway chipped in the barbecue sauce and pickles, and students and staff donated the pop and chips.

There is a set fee for the meal, but people are welcome to donate more to the family if they wish. Koppen said they are also awaiting word from Thrivent Financial on a request for matching funds.

"I'm from a big city, so this is truly, for me, what small town living is," Koppen said. "Everyone comes forward to help."

The Swains have been overwhelmed by all of the help they've received.

"We were totally surprised and shocked over it," said Bill. "As far as I know, I haven't seen any community do as much to help out as this area and Round Lake. It was heartfelt."

The Swains moved to Round Lake after Bill's employer out east downsized and left him without work. At the time they moved to southwest Minnesota, his mom, a younger brother and younger sister were all living in Round Lake, and another sister was in Sibley, Iowa. Both of his sisters are gone now, and his mom has since moved to Dundee.

Bill works as a route driver for the Daily Globe, delivering newspapers to homes, post offices and newspaper vending machines in northwest Iowa. Maureen works at Hardee's in Worthington.

While the Swains are grateful for all of the donations they've received, Bill said they are still in search of some items, including a dresser, some end tables, large pots for cooking spaghetti and some "decent" frying pans.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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