The Miracle of Henri

This is a True Story.

2013-07-06_10-37-14_726I stood on the shore of Cloudy Lake in Wasilla, Alaska feeling the pressure of stress and worry fill me. I tried to appreciate the beauty of the swans, ducks and sunshine but the concern over how I was going to pay my bills weighed heavy on my mind.

I had invested a bunch of my money in a motorhome and realized, as much as I loved it, I could not afford to keep it. I was paying the bank on the loan, a storage facility to house it and maintenance fees to keep it in top shape.  I was struggling to keep my personal business, as well as the North America Outdoor Institute (NAOI,) the non-profit I founded and was running, alive. It was all just too much.

2013-10-27_12-31-19_589And then my cell phone rang. A number I didn’t recognize. :Hello, this is Debra,” I greeted.

“Hi, my name is Tom and I saw you had an ad on RV trader for your motorhome?”

I wondered if it could be possible. I knew better than to get excited because this could be just like all the other calls I’d had over the past two years of trying to sell. But this call was different. The man explained he had owned a motorhome like this and knew what I had. If I could prove it was in as good a shape as I proclaimed, he was willing to pay me what I wanted in cash. All I had to do was meet him in New Mexico within the next two weeks.

It was a tough decision but finally I felt in my heart it was possible that it was all for real and I needed to believe it. And so I did. I met Mr. Tom LaClair on a Saturday. He took one look and handed me a cashiers check for the full amount. I agreed to follow him home with the motorhome where my daughter agreed to pick me up.

We set off down the Interstate and when we arrived at his home in southern Arizona four hours later, I handed over the keys and drove away with my daughter convinced I would never see my beautiful little motorhome or Tom again. I was to discover just how wrong that proved to be….

2013 proved to be a pivotal, amazing year for me. After nine-years of hard work, sacrifice and dedication to NAOI, on January 2nd I received a phone call from the Arctic Slope Community Foundation with the good news that NAOI had been awarded a substantial grant. This single event changed everything in my world. It came at a most opportune time because I had just lost my father a few weeks earlier when he had a fatal stroke. I was feeling overwhelmed with sadness and the need to start down a new path.

I spent the next few months helping my youngest sister Diane sort through my parents belongings and remodel their house to prepare to sell it. Then we planned a celebration of life for Dad in order to share his beautiful works of art and the stories of his own adventurous life.


Artist and my Dad, Scott McDaniel

The Anchorage Loussac Library held a special showing of his work for the entire month of June that we kicked off May 30th with a reception at the library. Then on June 15th, the family gathered for a celebration of his life at Kincaid Park. This was followed on the 17th with a full honors military service at Ft. Rich and another special showing of his work at the Anchorage Museum. It was a busy, bustling time and good to have all of our family in one place.

During all the hustle and bustle of preparing for the memorial events, I received the greatest miracle of all. A wonderful, amazing, Fairy God Father called me with the most incredible gift. Yes Fairy GodFather. At least that’s what he is in my mind and heart.

I was once again standing by the lake, watching the swans when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I did the voice. It belonged to Tom LaClair, the kind gentleman who bought my motorhome ( I had fondly named Fin).  I moved forward with my life, grateful not to have the burden of expenses but sad in my heart and always missing my little traveling home. I thought of it often over the years but never expected I would hear from Mr. LaClair again. Until the day he surprised me with his call.

He began the conversation reminding me who he was and in my mind, I thought, ‘Oh no, he wants me to buy Fin back!’ While I would have loved to be able to do that, I knew I didn’t have the money and that it would be impossible. But then he surprised me by telling me that he didn’t want me to buy it, he wanted to ‘give‘ me the motorhome.

‘I have settled in Mesa, Arizona and will not be traveling any longer so I need to do something with the wonderful little motorhome,” Tom explained. “I was going to donate it to a non-profit, but I have maxed out my charitable contributions for the year and realized, any non profit I give this to will just sell it anyway. And then I thought of you. If you would like and can handle it, I  want to give it to you.

For a moment I stood frozen, looking out across the lake wondering if this was just a cruel joke; or a wildly impossible dream.  Because Mr. LaClair had been true to his word when he bought the motorhome, I wanted to believe him now. And amazing as it is, this proved to be not a joke or a dream, but the most amazing miracle.

On October 16, 2013, I met Tom for lunch and got to see the truth of the miracle. With my new license plates, registration and keys in hand, I truly have my motorhome back. Only now her name is Henri, in memory of Tom’s mother. Her story is truly inspiring and heartfelt and I feel honored and proud that she will be traveling with me.

Debra's Motorhome

Originally known as Fin (for my Huckleberry adventures) now named in memory of Tom LaClair’s mother ‘Henri’ – Flora Henrietta LaClair

After a wonderful lunch, Tom and I said goodbye with the promise that I would return the following week to pick up Henri and set out for my adventures. I’m excited about all the travels that wait for us and happy to share through this blog as we set out across the United States. I hope you will join us.

About urocksafety

I am a freelance writer, former executive director of the Alaska Avalanche Information Center, former director of the North America Outdoor Institute and current Eligibility Tech II for the State of Alaska. I have more than 10 years of non-profiting consulting services experience helping non-profits navigate the path to federal compliance. I can help you answer the question, 'should I start a non-profit?'
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