Published: 10:27 p.m. ET Dec. 24, 2020 Updated: 3:34 p.m. ET Dec. 27, 2020
Dearborn Heights — Tom Wencel says his daughter’s death three years ago has spawned a miracle on Tulane Street.
Wencel, a 63-year-old retired drywall finisher and plasterer, has spent decades volunteering for his parish, his children’s schools, Meals on Wheels, and programs for seniors and veterans — but this holiday season, he’s on the receiving end of charity.
Dozens of volunteers are helping him and his wife, Debbie, add a second level to their former two-bedroom, one-floor ranch on Tulane Street in Dearborn Heights. The expansion will add room for the couple’s five young grandchildren, whom they’ve fostered since their 36-year-old daughter, Jaime Wencel, died of a heart attack on July 11, 2017.
As the house is being renovated, the Wencels are in the final stages of adopting Cara, 12, Paige, 8, Jenna, 7, Cayden, 5, and Nina, 3.
Tom Wencel said that isn’t how he’d planned his retirement.
“I was a union construction worker, and (four years ago) when I was 59, I took an early pension,” he said. “It was less money than if I’d waited a few more years, but I told my wife, ‘We should be able to make it; we don’t have too many expenses, and I can do side jobs. We can hit the road in a mobile home and enjoy each other’s company.’
“Then, my daughter died, and suddenly we went from being a family of two to a family of seven.”
Jaime Wencel died of complications from Nina’s birth, Wencel said. The children’s father is not in the picture, he said.
“She was our youngest daughter,” Wencel said. “She was a great mother, and she was very popular — she had 500 people at her funeral.”
Wencel said he wasn’t prepared for the rigorous adoption process.
“We thought since we were their grandparents, they could just come live with us and we could adopt them,” Wencel said. “But, my gosh, all the paperwork, and the tons of red tape. We finally got everything finalized, but then COVID hit, and everything stalled. It’s very frustrating.
“But we’re very religious people, and we’ve put our faith in God that despite the hardships, things will work out. My priest was talking to me about it, and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘If it takes 10 years, will it have been worth the wait?’ He’s right — we can wait a little longer.”
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