Potsdam community answers call after theft left family homeless
From left, Kim, Ryan and Skyla LaFleur sit on donated furniture at their new apartment in The Quarry in Potsdam, after sleeping for several nights in the gazebo at Ives Park, behind the Clarkson Inn. NCNow photo by Cheryl Shumway.
BY ADAM ATKINSON
North Country This Week
POTSDAM — A man born in Potsdam who returned to the area to live out his last days with cancer says the generosity of the community shown to him and his family when he fell on hard times is like nowhere else.
Kim LaFleur who was born in 1956, moved to Lawrence in 1959 and turned 66 on Thanksgiving.
He served as an Army medic, lived in Chicago and Florida, dabbled in politics, and worked as a community organizer in the Sunshine State. But he decided to return to the area with his wife Skyla and son Ryan after being diagnosed with terminal cancer a year ago.
“I did not want to be buried in Florida. We have a family burial plot in Brushton,” LaFleur said.
On the bus trip north to join his family early this fall, he was robbed of his baggage, money, identification and wheelchair by thieves posing as bus station agents in Atlanta, LaFleur said. The experience left him with broken ribs, destitute and in the hospital for a time, he said.
“We ended up here with no money,” LaFleur said. “I had no cell phone, I was dead in the water.”
Later, a priest on the bus north helped him make his way to St. Mary’s CHurch once LaFleur arrived in Potsdam and local law enforcement assisted him with an emergency room trip and a room at a hotel in Massena for the first night. The church helped out with a room at the Clarkson Inn the following night.
The family, which lives on a fixed income, was eventually able to secure an apartment at The Quarry, subsidized apartments in the recently renovated Snell Hall across from the Potsdam Public Library.
But before that, they ended up in Ives Park, staying in the gazebo there for nine days and nine nights in early September.
LaFleur said many community members, passersby and local businesses helped the family while they were there.
“People brought us bedding, pillows, you name it we had it,” he said. One morning he said he awoke and someone had covered his wife with a blanket.
“We had other people, and college kids, bring us coffee and donuts,” LaFleur said. Local contractors working in the area brought pizza and wings.
“And then these people just disappeared. It was like a prayer from heaven. You have to remember I had no money and my debit card was stolen,” LaFleur told North Country This Week.
“This went on for nine days and nine nights,” LaFleur said.
“The police department. Kudos to them.” LaFleur praised the local agency for their help during the family’s rough patch. “You know if you are in Chicago with no money, you’re a vagrant. But, (here) there was compassion.”
LaFleur gave praise to a local retired couple that gave the family rides to medical appointments and donated furniture to them when they were finally moved into The Quarry. He also spoke highly of a local Key Bank teller who would stop in to check on the family in the gazebo at night.
He said the Village Diner and the Royal India Grill donated food, a nurse walking through the park gave them money, and they received more from a family visiting their child at college.
He praised St. Mary’s Church, the local police department and the staff and neighbors at The Quarry with helping the family.
“The things we have here. The values. I always carried that with me and that’s why I came back. I learned my values here,” LaFleur said. “You guys have such an amazing group of people.”
LaFleur pointed out that the generosity shown to the family was volunteered without the family requesting it. “We never asked for a thing. That’s just the way I’m built,” he told the newspaper. “Because of the way I was raised, it was hard. I’m proud.”
“What you guys have here is not normal,” he said.
“I still need to thank Potsdam somehow,” LaFleur said.
“This community is very special.”