House on Lee Street restored to honor mother of many, 105-year-old servant of God
Lexington S.C (Devin Ruiz) - On December 22nd, 2017, the home of Ms. Willie “Mama Dean” Anderson was officially restored and opened to family once again; A perfect Christmas gift for the community of Cayce.
You may remember a story last spring about a house fire on Lee Street that destroyed the home of 105-year-old Cayce resident, Willie Dean Anderson. Willie Dean’s granddaughter Stephanie Kelly and other close family members were living there at the time and fortunately, left the home unharmed; however, the house was permanently damaged.
The house had been built by Willie Dean over fifty-four years ago with the specific intention of fostering children without homes. She had an extremely charitable heart and loved opening her doors to any in need. What was originally a humble little home amid other small houses on Lee Street would grow as the years went on. The house saw extensions, transitioning from a three-bedroom home to a five-bedroom home, in order to accommodate the children she brought in.
The house became the largest in the neighborhood and moved far beyond the original foundation that was laid out. Willie Dean’s own grandmother lived on the same street just a few houses down which made what Willie Dean was doing all the more sentimental to the town of Cayce. She would later be known as “Mama Dean” to all who knew her.
Although “Mama Dean” only birthed one child herself, she would adopt four and bring in over seventy children from the street. This was a dream come to fruition. She was a Godly woman willing to lend a hand to any who would ask. “Mama Dean” had created more than just a house. She created a home for those without and presented a heart for those who had never felt love before.
This made the fire that struck the house on Lee Street all the more tragic. It wasn’t just the home of “Mama Dean” and her close family that had been lost, but a significant part of the history of Cayce. It would soon become clear to the town of Cayce what all "Mama Dean" had done over her lifetime.
A project to rebuild her home was conceived by Captain Thomas Steinbring of the Cayce Department of Public Safety as well as Roy Kramer, Executive Director of Columbia’s Habitat for Humanity. They would begin restoration of Willie Dean Anderson’s home. This was decided after the Cayce's DPS hosted a 105th birthday party for Willie Dean because she was not able to celebrate it in her home. Friends, family, and members from her church came out to support and celebrate Mama Dean and everything that she had done for the community. BBQ was served and the choir from the church performed, making it an emotional and celebratory event in the face of a tragic loss.
What followed were months of construction, planning, and extreme devotion to seeing that one amazing woman and her family would have a home again. Captain Steinbring led the charge by maintaining a flow of volunteer support from the Department of Public Safety and making sure that the family of “Mama Dean” was cared for.
Roy Kramer, with Habitat for Humanity, was set to begin the rebuilding process. A Christian organization, Habitat sets its goal to allow for easy access to resources and bridge communication between the community and statewide support. Helping families in need and getting communities to thrive is what Habitat strives for. Habitat has built multiple homes in the neighborhood and was working on a home on Lee Street when the fire occurred.
These men oversaw the majority of the project, but there was still hard work to be done. Stephanie Kelly, granddaughter of Willie Dean, along with her immediate family stepped up to devote as much time and effort as was needed to restore their home. For months the family worked in the sweltering summer heat so common to South Carolina, and they worked with purpose and ambition.
The house was a shell of what existed before. The roof was mostly gone, the walls blackened, and almost all of their belongings had disappeared, and yet the family pressed on.
Stephanie Kelly and her family were led by Charles “Chuck” Applegate who was hired by Habitat just in time to start this effort. The restoration of this very special house was Chuck’s very first project. As he spent months guiding the family through their hard work, he taught them things about construction they had never known. Over those months Chuck would grow as a part of their family; only natural after spending so much time and effort alongside one another.
“When I first got involved I knew that this was going to be a real challenge," Chuck said, “and it absolutely was. But it was well worth it.” If you had stopped by the house mid construction when it was 97 degrees outside and the family, Chuck included, was pouring sweat with tired expressions on their faces as they worked hard, you would be amazed to find that each one would have something to smile about. It certainly was hard work, but it was as if their spirits had not been broken. The fire of “Mama Dean’s” spirit inside of that family was unbreakable.
Every day offered a new challenge and presented seemingly impossible odds, but Stephanie Kelly shared that every day there was something to be encouraged by. Every day made the last seem more bearable and the future just a little bit brighter.
However, on July 8th 2017, another tragedy struck. Willie Dean Anderson passed away in her sleep. After 105 years of blessing others with a Godly love she had passed peacefully. She was never able to enter her home on Lee Street again; instead she was welcomed to a different homecoming, to be at one with the Lord.
Her homecoming ceremony was held at St. Peter’s AME Church and a celebration was held on Lee Street shortly after. It was not a time for tears from the people who loved “Mama Dean," it was a time to rejoice. Finally, God’s loving servant was being welcomed home.
The family would continue to work on the house even after her passing. They eventually finished construction in mid-December and announced that a ceremony would be held for the reopening of Willie “Mama Dean” Anderson’s home.
After months of intense work done by the family of Willie Dean Anderson, along with volunteers from all walks of life, the home was finished. Although Willie Dean was not able to see this day while on earth, everyone knew that she was certainly watching from her new home.
The keys were turned over to the Anderson family just before Christmas and there was an official ribbon cutting. As Stephanie Kelly entered the fully restored home she was overcome with emotion. “I just wish she was here to see this day, but I know she’s smiling down from heaven,” Kelly said.“It’s a beautiful thing, this is the best Christmas present ever.”
Stephanie Kelly wasn’t the only one filled with emotion on that day. Roy Kramer commented on the experience of rebuilding the house saying, “Although we are sad that she isn’t here with us now, we are proud to say that this home can continue to be a place where they can foster people who are on the street just as she fostered so many in her lifetime.”
Roy explained the changes that were necessary for the house to function again, such as returning its original layout of a three-bedroom house. The addition that was made to the back of the house was gone. It simply had to be done, Roy claimed. The house had been restored to its original framing. “We had to tear it down to its bones and evaluate how to construct a well-built home that is as close to the original as possible. We ripped out the electrical, plumbing, and air conditioning and just started from scratch. It was quicker, easier, and cleaner," Roy said.
Explaining why the changes to the house had to be made, Roy was honest and emotional, stating, “we had to save the neighborhood.”
Chuck Applegate was also honest about the entire process, praising the Anderson family for being involved throughout its entirety. He claimed that there were certainly difficulties in reconstruction, but that they were able to overcome them. During the reconstruction process they had filled eight large dumpsters with debris, which gave them confidence each time that they were breaking real ground.
The hard work was done and the family could relax again. They could lie down in their own beds again, cook in their old kitchen, sit together in their old living room. There was a time when Stephanie Kelly was unsure if they would ever be inside their home again.
As you enter the front door, the very first thing you’ll see is a painting of Willie “Mama Dean” Anderson. It’s a beautiful image and perfectly captures her lovingly happy essence. On it is a passage of scripture. Psalm 55:6 “And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away and be at rest!” I could not think of a more appropriate passage of scripture to sum up what this family has experienced this past year.