‘New lease on life’ for house fire victim

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Verna Campbell holds a photo of her at age 3 with her sisters, Betty, Beverly and Shirley, on the front porch of their home.

It has been a long 14 months and a tedious process for Verna Campbell to restore her fire-ravaged ancestral home on Maple Avenue in downtown Riverhead.

But as she prepares to spend her first night sleeping in her new bedroom Tuesday, on the eve of her 80th birthday, she said wistfully, “this is a new lease on life for me.”

The more than 100-year-old home, which has been in her family since the 1930’s, was destroyed along with all her possessions in January 2012. Her daughter, Bonnie-Sue Luce, lost all her belongings as well in her upstairs apartment. She also lost four cats in the fire.

The home now has shiny new hardwood floors and walls painted in soft pastels of blue, ivory and pale yellow. And as Ms. Campbell walked from room to room she pointed out where the furnishings, pictures and rugs came from.

“The kitchen table came from Hildreth’s,” she said. “I fell in love with the shape of it.”

[Previous Coverage: Fire victims set to return to renovated home]

The blinds and shutters were from Lowe’s, as were the pictures and dining room area rug. The living room couches and chairs from J.C. Penney’s and pillows on the couch from Martha Stewart.

A dining room closet was turned into an arch-shaped bookshelf to feature some family photos, including one lost in the fire. Her sister Shirley Chase, who lives in Virginia, provided a replacement photo. The photo shows Ms. Campbell at age 3 with her three sisters — Beverly, Betty and Shirley on their front porch.

Ms. Campbell has worked as a receptionist at Town Hall for 36 years. When asked if she plans on retiring anytime soon, her response was, “I don’t really want to retire. I like the routine and I like the people. What am I going to do? Stay home and clean all day?

“My strong faith in God kept me going. I thank him everyday for keeping me and my daughter safe.”

Ms. Campbell has been living in a leased mobile home on the property while contractors worked on the home.

“I’ve grown accustomed to the mobile home — its face and shape,” she said. “This is all so overwhelming. I feel like I should have a maid. I’ve got so much to do to pack up. I have to work like a beaver.”

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BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Verna Campbell in her new bedroom with a ‘pie-crust’ mirror from Hildreth’s Department store in Southampton. She will be sleeping there Tuesday night on the eve of her 80th birthday.