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Effort underway to buy house for widow

Wilda Thompson, the matriarch of a family that has been devastated by the Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (see related story), has watched her family die around her — four of her six children, her husband of 27 years, and five grandchildren. Seven died of cancer and three others in accidents.

At 74, Thompson has been widowed 32 years. She lives in a tiny, two-room duplex, her living room just feet from a major road that connects I-15 and Riverton. She runs a fan at night to drown out the noise of the traffic.

“It’s a dump,” as one friend puts it bluntly.

Since her husband died, insurance money has run out and she lives on a small state pension and Social Security. She has lived in more than a dozen homes, including a single-wide trailer for a time, and has never had a home of her own. She held a variety of jobs, mostly as a caretaker for sick adults. She worked two full-time jobs for a decade, often sleeping on a couch at work at night.

She quit work to care for one of her daughters. She has two surviving children, but one has health issues and a daughter with a brain tumor, and the other has a full-time job and helps see to the needs of extended family, including three widows.

In retirement, Wilda lives alone with two small dogs. “They are the reasons I live,” she says. “Sometimes I just want to go to sleep and never wake up.” Her long-time friend, Judy Bangerter, checks in on her frequently. “She always looks like she’s been crying,” says Bangerter.

Bangerter and her husband, Norm, the former Utah governor, are heading up an effort to raise $160,000 to buy a condo for Thompson. They recruited author Richard Paul Evans to help their cause, and after hearing Wilda’s story, he was all in. He has written a letter that has been sent to people in the community asking for help.

“As I meet people around the country,” his letter begins, “I am sometimes overwhelmed by the suffering that some people have to go through. I’d like to share with you a story about someone I have become acquainted with whose suffering seems unimaginable. ...”

Upon Thompson's death, the condo would be sold and the money used to help pay off the Ogden Christmas Box House. The Christmas Box House International, co-founded by Evans and Judy Bangerter, among others, provides emergency shelter for kids, as well as “food, on-site therapy, medical and dental evaluations, and recreational activities.”

“After people read the letter they start making phone calls to people they know,” says Judy Bangerter. “It’s mushrooming. This is the pure religion that is mentioned in (the New Testament) James 1:27 — taking care of the widow and the fatherless kids.”

The group has found a condo it wants to purchase, a place “where she can be with people her age who have dogs and the same interests,” says Bangerter. “We felt like she needed a place she would feel secure in, just to give her hope, if nothing else.”

Those who want to contribute to the purchase of the condo can do so at any American First Credit Union, or mail it to: Wilda Thompson Charitable Account, America First Credit Union, P.O. Box 9199 Ogden, UT, 84409-0199.

Email: drob@deseretnews.com