Gwen Breedlove wasn’t sure she ever would be able to rebuild the house she lost nearly a year ago in the West Fertilizer Co. explosion.
She had worked on the house herself as a 20-year-old and lived there for 34 years, raising a daughter. When she returned weeks after the blast to the ruined house, full of broken beams, wasp nests and mildew, she could do nothing but cry.
“I never thought I’d wake up 55 and homeless,” she said.
But Breedlove is getting by with more than a little help from her friends in the construction industry.
On Friday, she received the keys to a new three-bedroom brick house donated by the Texas Association of Builders.
The association chose Breedlove based on recommendations from Waco-area builders, who knew her as a hardworking proprietor of a business that cleaned new homes before owners moved in.
Breedlove has roots in the local building industry: Her father was a cabinet maker, and her mother once owned Woodrow Colley Building Materials in Waco.
“You are one of us, and I’m pleased to come back and see the rebirth of West, Texas,” said Randy French, president and founder of Stylecraft Homes, at a brief ceremony Friday. “It’s fascinating to me.”
French, who lives in College Station, initiated the idea of bringing Texas builders together to build a home in West.
His company built the house, valued at around $110,000, and was the largest donor. McLennan County contractors also chipped in materials and labor, while the Heart of Texas Builders Association added $22,000 in donations to other relief efforts in West.
Breedlove had let her insurance lapse the year before the disaster as she struggled with paying for cancer treatment for her young adult daughter, Savannah.
“I remember thinking if a storm came and I had to replace the roof, I could do a lot of the work myself,” she said.
She was away from home when the blast occurred the evening of April 17, and she wouldn’t be able to return for a couple of weeks. She moved to a long-vacant house her family owned in Elm Mott and lived in a travel trailer in the driveway until the house could be made ready for occupancy.
Breedlove said she applied for federal disaster assistance, but she said the $8,000 she was offered wouldn’t begin to cover the loss of her 2,300-square-foot, two- story home.
“I said: ‘That won’t fix the house. You’ve got the wrong house,’ ” she recalls telling federal emergency officials.
For a while, Breedlove wondered whether she would return to her hometown of West.
“I got really depressed about it,” she said. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Her outlook changed when she got the news last summer that she had been chosen for the builders association donation. Work began on the house Aug. 30.
Breedlove said the house is smaller than her old one, but she loves the open design, high ceilings and modern kitchen. She plans to keep a bedroom for her daughter, though Savannah is planning to live with a friend elsewhere.
But Savannah seemed to have second thoughts as she walked through the front entry hall.
“Moving in with you wouldn’t be such a bad idea,” she said.