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Donny Arndt had a thing for red heads and fast cars, which made his wife Kim Arndt an easy match and the two were inseparable for 22 years until his death on Saturday.

Now Kim isn’t sure she’ll be able to keep their home.

Donny had pancreatic cancer and he died in his home on Novak Road surrounded by family. But as Donny battled his cancer, Kim struggled with her own health issues. Diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast on Feb. 1, Kim opted to have both breasts removed on July 13. Her doctors tell her she is cancer free, but her home is in foreclosure because she and Donny were injured in a car crash in 2014.

As a result, the couple was unable to work for two years. Now their family has started a crowd-funding account on Go Fund Me to help Kim get back on her feet.

“He wouldn’t give up his fight until he knew I was going to be OK,” Kim said. “He said it to me. He said it his mother and his sisters… OK now. I know she’s going to be OK.”

Happier times

Before he got sick, when Donny walked into the room he had a presence because of his infectious smile and outgoing personality, said his step daughter Becky Lopez.

“You didn’t even have to know him, you just knew there was such a presence about him and you wanted to know him,” Lopez said.

Rachel Simmons, Donny’s daughter from a previous marriage, described her dad as boisterous, stubborn, and a bit obnoxious; but he always entertained people. He loved Fiddler on the Roof, The Christmas Story, drumming and singing.

“One Christmas he was getting up and the Fiddler on the Roof was on the TV,” Simmons said. “He just pounded (his feet) dancing and the tree was just shaking. We were laughing and singing with him, and he was just going to town with it.”

That spirit and connection with his family and friends kept him going even through the difficulties of having cancer.

“He taught me how to love by his example,” Simmons said. “He loved everybody… and he taught me to just be happy and love people.”

Donny was also the kind of guy that would show up to help because he knew you were working on a project. He mowed his neighbors lawn because his was broke, helped build his father-in-law’s garage, and gave business advice to his friend Shawn Utphall, who owns a construction company.

“You didn’t even have to ask,” said Becky Lopez, Donny’s step-daughter.

Cancer Times 2

Doctors told Donny in 2014 that he had cancer and when he was in the hospital on Feb. 1 he learned that Kim had breast cancer. He took the news hard.

The couple thought it was odd they both had cancer and they know a number of people who live in the area have cancer.

Some of those neighbors suspect their illnesses might have to do with living so close to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant. This had crossed Kim and Donny’s mind since Donny grew up in house on County Line Road near the power plant and used to ride his dirt bike on the coal ash piles. When he was older, he was a heavy equipment operator for an excavator that hauled coal ash and he dug many of the ravines on the site.

Coal ash, a byproduct in the electricity-making process, is known to contain heavy metals that are associated with certain types of cancer and illnesses, but We Energies has publicly denied there claims even after coal dust was found in a number of homes near the Arndt’s home.

“What are the odds of two people getting cancer in the same house… we wonder, how does that happen?” Lopez said.

As Donny and Kim grappled with being ill, Donny wished he wasn’t so sick because he knew Kim needed someone to take care of her. At times the two of them were going through chemo treatments together. Sitting on the couch, there were times when Donny was sicker than Kim, and she was sicker than him.

“He asked me, ‘How do you do it?’ I told him, ‘I don’t know, but the strength comes from someplace,'” Kim said. “But anybody that knows me knows that I’m a very strong person… It’s just who I am.”

Right after Donny came from having surgery on July 8, Kim had both of her breasts removed on July 13. A few days after the surgery, however, doctors told Kim she was cancer free.

Reconnecting with God

Donny, who really hadn’t been a religious type, always wanted to learn how to read the Bible. When a family member told him about The Ridge Community Church in Greenfield, he started to attend services there.

Donny and Simmons would talk for hours on the phone about his faith because the church had an online service. Watching him grow in his faith brought the two of them closer. There would be times where his faith would falter as the illness took its toll, but he never stopped believing that God had a plan for him and he would often bounce back.

“He would go to church and afterward he would be happy… the happiest he could be,” Lopez said. “He would come home from church and say, ‘I needed that today. I really needed that.'”

Donny told his nephew and his wife in July when they visited that he still believed that God would get him through the cancer, but his nephew’s wife Jessica told him maybe God’s plan was for him to have eternal life. This changed Donny’s outlook. He talked about the people he cared about and he felt they would always be present with him forever.

“So he never said ‘Good-bye.’ It was always: ‘See you later,'” Kim said.

“And we had to let him have that… even though we knew he wasn’t getting any better,” Lopez said.

The family has set up a Go Fund Me to help Kim raise money to get her home out of foreclosure. Click here to help.

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

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