Son delays sale of house; Man's offer prompts judge to extend bids on home that sheltered 28 Blackburn children.

Date: 2005-04-20

Indianapolis Star, The (IN)
Author: JASON THOMAS JASON.THOMAS@INDYSTAR.COM

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. -- Inside Shelby Superior Court, Kathy Blackburn buried her face in her hands.

Twelve years have passed since she moved into a 14-bedroom, 12,000-square-foot home with 28 children she and her former husband adopted from Haiti.

On Tuesday, one of those children -- now 24 -- was trying to rescue her.

A Tuesday hearing could have ended a nearly 12-year feud between the Shelbyville Ministerial Association, a community philanthropic group that holds the deed to the land, and Blackburn, now a single mother who lives with six of her children,

Five offers to buy the property -- something the association and Blackburn agreed to earlier this year -- were on the table.

But Aaron Timothy Blackburn, who lives with his mother in the dormitory-style home on Ind. 9 in rural Shelby County, had another plan.

A sixth offer was made: Aaron Blackburn has secured a $78,000 loan -- topping the highest offer -- to buy the home.

Blackburn buried her face in her hands, anticipating the judge's decision. Judge Jack A. Tandy, citing what he called a "flurry of last-minute activity," extended the bidding process on the property to 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

Another hearing was set for May 16. Blackburn could go back home.

"The fat lady hasn't sung yet," she said while leaving the courtroom.

Blackburn's story began more than 15 years ago. She and her then-husband, Dan Blackburn, brought 28 children back from missionary work in Haiti; the children became U.S. citizens in 1991.

The family of 30 had no place to call home.

Word got around. The Shelbyville Ministerial Association spearheaded an effort to house the family, collecting more than $150,000 from people across Indiana. Shelby County resident Carl Mohr, who lives next to the property, offered five acres to the association.

In 1993, the dormitory-style home was completed. Three years later, the couple divorced, and Kathy Blackburn eventually won custody of the children.

Over time, the house has fallen into serious disrepair. It has been valued at $164,000. In 2002, legal proceedings were initiated to evict Blackburn.

Earlier this year, the association and Blackburn finally agreed to sell the house: Blackburn would receive 65 percent of the proceeds, and the association 35 percent.

At least six adult sons, including Aaron Blackburn, live at the home.

He testified Tuesday that he makes $11 an hour as an auto parts assembly worker in Franklin. His only outstanding debt is a $341-per-month car payment.

Blackburn testified she would assign her 65 percent share of the proceeds to her son.

Lawyer Mark W. McNeely, who represents the ministerial association, asked Aaron if he was buying the home so his mother could stay on the property.

"I'm buying it for us," he said. "That's basically what it was built for."

Aaron faces a tough road. Anyone, including Mohr, can bid on the property for the next seven days.

The legal wrangling hasn't surprised McNeely.

"No surprise would have been the surprise, quite frankly," McNeely said. "There's always something at the very last minute that always comes up. It's always been at the 11th hour when we've had new pleadings, new attorneys, new allegations, and now we've got new offers."

Aaron refused to comment. Two of his brothers, including James Blackburn, attended Tuesday's hearing.

"I have faith it's all going to work out somehow," James Blackburn, 27, said. "I'm glad it was extended for a little more time."

Call Star reporter Jason Thomas at (317) 444-2708.

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