WHITEFIELD — The Pagurko family already believed they had a 15-year spell of bad luck when they were dealt another blow.

“I ran around the back door, the fire was right there, and got a garden hose,” John Pagurko said. “I opened it up and it was like a fire-breathing dragon.

“The covered porch went the whole way down and the fire went all the way through,” he said.

John Pagurko, his wife Melanie and their four daughters, Anna, 19, Calista, 16, Shae-Lynn, 14 and Christina, 10, made it out of the house at 571 Town House Road safely last year on Sept. 3. But the two-story wooden home was totally destroyed and uninsured. The fire started inside the wall of the home, near where a small dryer fire broke out 12 years prior.

“I could have been visiting the girls in burn centers, could have been making funeral arrangements, it was close,” John Pagurko said. “We were fortunate.”

In the aftermath, John Pagurko said a friend consoled him by saying this was the worst thing that the Pagurko family has been through in recent memory. He disagreed.


“This is not even close,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot.”

While the four daughters live at home, the Pagurko family has another member. Their son, Benaiah, 22, who has autism, is living at a residential school for adults with behavioral disabilities in Canton, Massachusetts.

“He’s happy as can be and incredibly well-cared-for,” Melanie Pagurko said. “The first 15 years of his life, I was a nervous wreck because, no matter where he was, I knew he wasn’t safe.”

Benaiah Pagurko had a history of running away from home and has not lived at home permanently since 2008, John Pagurko said.

“He’s like Jason Bourne,” he said. “He goes in a room and assesses everything and finds all of his opportunities. If you look the other way for a second, he makes his move.”

With costly arrangements to deal with his behavior, the family was squeezed financially. John Pagurko said it came time to choose between his successful construction business or his family. His business’ assets were sold at auction.


“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s hard, 23 years and you watch everything go.”

John Pagurko now raises pigs on a farm on the property and the pork is sold at area markets, like Sheepscot General Store just down the road.

Melanie Pagurko said Benaiah was increasingly difficult to manage at home, which put him, herself and her daughters in harm’s way.

“We were playing Russian Roulette with all of our children and with me,” she said. “He was a danger to himself and everyone else.”

When Benaiah was confirmed to be staying in Massachusetts last year, John Pagurko remembers that he told his wife that their life could be on a upturn. A few months later, the aforementioned blaze destroyed their home.

Now, John Pagurko is living in an motor home on the property while he attempts to build home and tends to his 120 pigs. His wife and daughters are split between an apartment in Nobleboro and a family friend’s house Augusta.


The community rallied around the family to provide clothes and accommodation.

Now, the next step is rebuilding the home.

Bruce Berger, a friend of the Pagurko family, has volunteered hundreds of hours of his time and about $75,000 of his own money to the project. He said members of his and Pagurko’s church, Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Augusta, have been helping build the home with some help from family members.

“Any given time, it’ll be anywhere from two up to 15,” Berger said. “These volunteers all have lives and they’re trying to carve out time so they can be here.”

The project started in April. The new home is more than halfway done, Berger said. But his credit lines are running out, he said, which could eventually halt progress on construction. He said he is working to set up a bank account for the project to take financial donations, but donations of building materials or time are necessary to finish the home as soon as possible.

“I want to get them in before winter, that’s kind of my objective,” Berger said.


The new two-story home is being built on a foundation that already existed about 20 feet from the location of the old house. John Pagurko planned on building an apartment on the foundation.

“I was, someday, going to make it an apartment but I never got around to it,” he said. “Instead of a little apartment, we can go up and squeeze us all in there. It works, I’m actually quite happy with it.”

Along the vein of bad luck, John Pagurko broke a rib and punctured his lung after falling from the second floor and landing on a ladder, keeping him away from the project for six weeks.

“I was in a hurry by myself, getting all this plywood (on the second floor),” he said. “I stepped on [the ladder] and it might as well have had marbles on the bottom.”

Despite the injury, he said he has been happy to receive so much help from the community, but the generosity makes him a bit uncomfortable.

“There’s a scripture that says ‘there’s more happiness in giving than there is in receiving,'” he said. “It’s uncomfortable being on this end of the stick … but there’s been a lot of help and a lot of support.”


Melanie Pagurko, a dance teacher in Waldoboro, said her students and the mid-coast dance community have held events to fundraise for the family.

“They’ve been amazing,” she said. “The love and support has been the silver lining.”

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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