For more than a year, the two-story house that once rang with the happy sounds of the three young Schaffhausen girls has sat abandoned on Morningside Avenue in River Falls, Wis. — its silence, dark windows and empty yard a heartbreaking reminder of the girls’ deaths inside at the hands of their father.
On Monday, a home that could never escape its tragic history — whose existence caused grief to rise anew in anyone passing by — will be dismantled piece by piece, thanks to an extraordinarily compassionate decision made by St. Paul’s Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union.
Like everyone who heard about the July 2012 tragedy, Affinity Plus employees were shocked and saddened. Then they realized that the St. Paul-based credit union was servicing the mortgage on the home, meaning that sensitive questions could lay ahead if the property reverted to its control. No one on staff had dealt with a situation like this before.
Attempts were made by other interests to sell the home, something that generated strenuous protests by the girls’ mother, Jessica Schaffhausen. No sale ensued, eventually leading to foreclosure and leaving the property’s fate in Affinity’s hands.
The credit union could have simply let the bottom line guide its decisionmaking — the foreclosure judgment was about $181,000. Instead, its leaders asked a question that speaks volumes about Affinity’s institutional values: What’s best for the family?
Credit union staff reached out to Jessica. She preferred that the home to be torn down and that salvageable parts, such as trusses, be donated to Habitat for Humanity.
“We talked internally and spoke to the board of the credit union. Everyone agreed it was the right thing to do,’’ said Dave Larson, Affinity’s interim president and CEO.
It will take about 10 days to disassemble the home; anything left will be razed. Eventual proceeds from the sale of the lot will be donated to a fund to build a memorial park for Amara, 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5.
Larson acknowledged that the credit union took a “significant loss” on the property. But what mattered most was trying to “do the right thing for people and communities.’’
No doubt the grassy lot left behind still will summon to mind the little girls whose lives ended too soon. But it also should be a reminder that acts of grace often occur in tragedy’s wake to help victims and communities heal.
Affinity’s stewardship of the girls’ former home is one of those gestures. Its leaders and employees are to be commended for their caring and decency.