Community rallies to support southeast side couple who lost barn with more than 100 years of memories to fire

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INDIANAPOLIS — On Tuesday, a fire ripped through a barn on the city’s southeast side, destroying everything in it.

For the Schildmeier family, that barn represented more than 100 years of memories, labor, love, and a community fixture, but in less than an hour, it was gone.

The Indianapolis Fire Department said it responded to the farm in the 2600 block of S. Post Road Tuesday at 8:57 a.m. Crews responding to the scene reported they could see heavy black smoke, visible for miles, and arrived to the barn engulfed.

The farm’s owner, Richard Schildmeier, was not home at the time the fire began and said he believes it was for the best. The sight of the barn that represented his livelihood, going up in flames, was too much to bear the thought of. Richard said if he was there, he likely would have gotten hurt trying to save whatever he could.

“I just fell apart, really. I couldn’t believe it,” said Richard, who took over the farm from his dad decades ago, “I said I don’t even want to go home for a couple hours because I knew it was gonna be a mess and it was.”

“He said he didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to watch it burn and I don’t blame him,” said his son, Greg Schildmeier, “People were asking, ‘Where’s he at? Where’s he at?’ No old farmer wants to watch their barn burn.”

Richard told CBS4 he arrived to the fire crews working at the scene. He said he thanks them for their kindness and professionalism. “They did an excellent job and were as nice as can be.”

According to IFD, the fire was accidental in nature. A long time worker on the property told firefighters an extension cord shorted and caught nearby items on fire. He attempted to put the fire out with a garden hose, but said it became out of control immediately.

The blaze destroyed items inside the barn, including 1,000 square bales of old hay, 35 round bales of new hay from this spring, a truck, farm equipment, a snowplow, a tractor, a tractor disc, a John Deere Tractor, and a 1976 collectible tractor.

The community quickly learned of a fundraiser created to support Richard and his wife Jan, after the fire. In less than 24 hours, it had already raised thousands of dollars.

When their son, Greg Schildmeier told his parents about the donations, he said his dad began crying and said he didn’t know he had that many friends.

Overwhelmed with gratitude, Richard and Jan said one of the most incredible things to come out of such a tragedy is meeting even more people impacted by the farm’s operations, like community members who have stopped by and said they spent time as a hay bailer at one point, or worked on the farm.

According to Greg, his dad became emotional at the dinner table. “It wasn’t from the barn, it was from the support. All of that is so welcomed. Thank you for that.”

Greg poignantly wrote on the posting, “A barn is the first thing you build once you declare yourself a farmer. It holds years of different tractors and equipment. It shelters the livestock; from the newly born to the old and worn. It witnesses the success and failures of a hard working family and absorbs occasional curse words so The Man Upstairs won’t hear them.”

Greg said he first received a call about the fire in the early hours on Tuesday.

“I got a call about 6 a.m. Over in California is where I was at. My mom was frantic [that] she couldn’t find my dad. She just said, ‘Greg, the barn’s on fire. I couldn’t get a hold of your dad.'”

Greg said he knew he needed to come home and be with his parents, who taught him everything about what it means to work hard, be humble, and help others.

“Just today, my dad taught me a new lesson. He got up and just said, ‘I need to deal with some hay and just went back to work, He may not realize it but 80 years later, he’s still teaching lessons.”

Richard is a Vietnam Purple Heart Veteran, who learned everything he knows about farming from his own dad. He cried as he spoke about how much it meant to have his son Greg fly home to be there for them.

Richard fondly remembers back to his early childhood days on the farm, and the barn that stood as he ran around playing basketball with his siblings. He said he can remember a time when he would bail hay with his dad, plowing until 10 or 11 at night, only to get back up early in the morning, milk the cows and make their way to the field.

“I was born here in 1943,” said Richard, “maybe I don’t remember those years but I got a picture of me out on here on the side of the house in a little bucket or tub. I can remember mom taking a picture or two.”

He shared, his mom and dad didn’t take too many pictures, but that the memories are in his heart, and everywhere he looks around and can see on his farm, including the barn.

“There is a hard way to describe what a barn means to people that don’t live on a farm. When I wrote that I tried to touch on, it’s not just a structure that holds things. It’s something that – it’s like an extension of the family,” Greg explained. He said when you lose it, it’s hard to function.

“It’s not just about to losing the barn and the tractors and all of that. It’s about where he has to think his life is going to go from here. That man has worked so hard his whole life. He deserves a chance to make those decisions on his own timeline.”

The hay barn was once home to livestock, including cattle, pigs, horses, and more. Richard said he fondly remembers when the cool water would stay running all day to keep the milk cold.

Richard and Jan could share stories of the farm for hours. It’s their pride and joy and a representation of decades of hard work.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes on this farm over the years. Each time you come back to visit it looks a little different,” said Greg. “It’s amazing how resilient a place like this can be.”

The Schildmeier family said they are grateful no one was injured in the fire, and while the future of the barn is uncertain right now, they are feeling an overwhelming amount of support from those who know them, and even those who don’t.

Greg said he knows his dad has the mentality of a farmer and he knows he will get through this. “You’ve gotta put your head down and go back to work. You’ve gotta be proud and you’ve gotta be resilient,” he said.

No injuries were reported in the fire, and four kittens were able to seek shelter under a bush, where they were found and accounted for.

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