A Howard Township man lost his life in a fire early Sunday, and the community has found a rallying point to support the family he left behind.
Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers announced the identity of the victim, Willis Reed Jr., 35, late Sunday, but people in the area didn’t need to wait that long. They had heard what happened in the early morning blaze at 554 Swartz Hollow Road long before.
“He was a very kind, very generous man,” Cynthia Gates said. “He was very loving to his family and a hard worker. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about him. He is definitely going to be missed. It’s a tragedy.”
Reed died of smoke inhalation. Sayers classified the manner of death as accidental.
Ten fire companies responded to the 5:51 a.m. fire, including firefighters from Howard, Walker Township, Citizen’s Hook and Ladder of Milesburg, Mill Hall, Undine of Bellefonte, Pleasant Gap, Snow Shoe, Miles Township, Lock Haven and Beech Creek-Blanchard.
The building was a total loss. Howard Fire Chief Colin Alterio said it was not known whether the structure was insured.
Alterio said there were no other injuries, but that Reed’s wife, Jodi, and three young children were displaced by the fire, which is being investigated by the state police fire marshal.
Gates started planning a benefit for the family Monday morning. Before noon, she was already being overwhelmed by offers of assistance.
“I am so surprised by all the help people want to give,” she said.
The event will be a spaghetti dinner from 2-7 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Boggs Township community building. Tickets will be sold at the door, but the price hasn’t been set yet, as planning continues. Donations of baked goods for sale and gifts for a raffle are also being accepted. All proceeds will benefit the family. Contact Gates at 574-7970 to help.
Neighbors are reaching out to help in other ways.
Clothing donations for the family are being gathered at the Rockview state police barracks and at other locations. Sizes needed are women’s 8 and women’s 8.5 shoes, girls 8 and size 2 shoes, boys 5-7 and 3T-4T with size 13 and 7 shoes.
An online fundraising campaign is being conducted at www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/help-the-reed-family/237433. By Monday evening, more than $10,000 had been raised.