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Freeland family one of many fighting to keep home in the face of foreclosure

Don and Randi Stowe with their son, Bryan, outside the family’s home they are trying to save in Freeland. Friends and family have started a bank account for donations to keep them in their home. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Don and Randi Stowe with their son, Bryan, outside the family’s home they are trying to save in Freeland. Friends and family have started a bank account for donations to keep them in their home.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

Don and Randi Stowe are no strangers to hard work.

Unfortunately, they are also becoming pretty familiar with hard luck.

Beset by a string of sudden health problems that left the Freeland couple unable to work, they are now one of the families on Whidbey facing foreclosure.

The problems began a few years ago, when Randi’s parents became ill and she left for California to help care for them. With just Don working, the couple fell behind on their bills.

They were eventually able to catch up with their payments on their house, a modest manufactured home on Timber Lane near Bush Point where they have lived for 14 years.

The couple kept working and was making it by, with the money she was earning as a housekeeper and his full-time job as a water distribution manager at King Water Company.

Everything changed on July 6 when Don — known as “Dutch” to most folks — was rising for the start of another workday.

“He got up to get ready to go to work and hit the floor with a massive stroke,” Randi recalled.

Dutch, 57, is still paralyzed on his left side. Though he’s confined to a wheelchair, he gets around with the help of his son, Bryan, 33, and is slowly making progress. The family was overjoyed the first time he could wiggle his toes, she said.

He’s still hoping to walk at some point, but lacks the balance to even stand up by himself.

“They said it will take a while, but it does look good. My God, he’s working so hard at it,” she said.

Stowe praised the help the couple has gotten from his employer at King Water Company, where they extended his health benefits after he exhausted his sick leave.

“Thank goodness, his boss has just been incredible,” she said.

Things turned for the worse in early summer. Stowe, 53, tore a rotator cuff on her right shoulder while moving a television at her housekeeping job. She heard something pop, but kept working as long as she could because the family needed her $800-a-month income.

Now, she’s in physical therapy and has not yet been cleared to go back to work.

“It’s been one thing after another,” she said.

The couple isn’t accustomed to not working, Stowe said, noting that she’s had a job since she was 15 and has drawn unemployment just once in her life.

“We’ve just always worked. We would much rather be working,” she said.

Now, the couple is struggling to hold onto the property that Dutch Stowe’s father bought back in the 1960s. The family has tried to stay in good standing with their lenders, and a few creditors have agreed to take partial payments. Others are starting to lose patience. In a day or so, the couple will be behind on three payments.

“The majority are starting to get real cranky,” she said.

Stowe said she can understand why.

“We’re just one of many, I know,” she said.

According to RealtyTrac, a foreclosure data service, banks repossessed 80 homes in Island County from May through August. The trend has been ticking upward; the number of repossessed homes jumped from eight in July to 28 in August.

During the May-to-August time frame, most homes that were repossessed by banks were in the Oak Harbor zip code area, with 25 properties taken back. Camano Island was second with 15, and Freeland third, with 11 homes repossessed.

Statewide, banks repossessed 1,265 homes in August, according to RealtyTrac. Nationwide, the number was 76,134.

The Stowes remain hopeful that they can hang onto their home. Friends set up a bank account this week at US Bank for people who want to make a donation to help the family get by.

Sometimes, though, optimism is hard to come by.

“It’s a helpless feeling I’m just not used to,” Stowe said.

Community Events, April 2014

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