Bosnian family rebuilds life after war

October 25, 1998

By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Gordon and Mirjana Culum got a piece of the American dream Sunday when Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County, Pa., handed over the keys to a new home to the refugee family.

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Six years ago, owning a home in Pennsylvania must have been the furthest thing from the minds of the Culums, who came here from war-torn Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia.

"In May 1992, the civil war comes into Bosnia and on May 12, we lost everything," Mirjana Culum said. The following month, her husband, other family members and neighbors were rounded up by Muslim forces.


"They put all Christians in concentration camps," said Mirjana Culum. Her husband spent 18 months in the camp, she said.

She said the Red Cross offered to help the family emigrate to either the United States, Canada or Australia. Three years ago, they came to Franklin County.

Gordon Culum now works at Greencastle (Pa.) Metalworks and his wife has a job at Fresh Express in Greencastle. Now they also have a rancher for themselves and their children, George, 12, and 6-year-old Vera.

"We do not give these houses away. The people pay for them by buying the building materials" and the lot on Pine Grove Road, said Leroy Miller, president of Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County.

The $36,000 in building materials for the house was donated by St. John's United Church of Christ in Chambersburg, Pa., and Habitat for Humanity donated the lot.

About 75 volunteers, many from the church, volunteered hundreds of hours of labor to build the house, according to Miller.

John Helman, a Habitat for Humanity board member, said the Culums must repay an interest-free loan on the house totaling approximately $55,000.

The family also put at least 500 hours of "sweat equity" into the project, said Edna Miller, chairman of the Family Selection and Nurturing Committees. Helman said that could be either work on the house, or on other community service projects approved by Habitat's board.

John Hull of Chambersburg said the money for the materials came from the church's trust fund, which the congregation will repay over two years.

Helman said this was the seventh Habitat house built in the county in four years. Two more are planned for 1999 in Chambersburg.

"This was our special anniversary project" to celebrate the church's 150th year, said the Rev. Stephen Hoffman of St. John's.

In the United States' Civil War, Hoffman said the church and borough were burned by Confederate raiders in 1864, with many members losing everything.

"God moved us to join this project," Hoffman said.

Helman said St. John's is also donating to Habitat for Humanity International. That money will help build homes in Central America.

"Owning a home is a wonderful, but sometimes elusive goal for some of our county residents," Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said. He said Sunday's ceremony reminded him of "It's a Wonderful Life," Frank Capra's 1946 classic film.

In one scene George Bailey, played by James Stewart, tells the town's greedy banker, "these people you're talking about ... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?"

"George Bailey didn't think so and, thank the Lord, neither does Habitat for Humanity," Elliott said.

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