Home built with hope may be auctioned; Money from sale would be shared between ministerial group and adoptees' mother.

Date: 2005-03-30

Indianapolis Star, The (IN)

A home that was built by love and charity more than a decade ago could end up on the auction block. If it does, Kathy Blackburn will have to move out of the place that had served as home for her and 28 adopted children.

The Shelby County Ministerial Association has filed a motion asking a judge to rule on whether the property can be auctioned. The hearing is scheduled for April 19 in Shelby County Superior Court.

The hearing could bring resolution to a legal fight that's been going on for several years.

Blackburn, 57, and six of her adopted children, all adult sons, still live in the 12,000-square-foot, 14-bedroom house, which was built for them on five acres at 5445 S. Ind. 9 in Shelby County. Blackburn's other 22 adopted children, also now adults, are on their own.

Four of the 28 adult children are in college. Some are pursuing master's degrees. Three of the grown children are serving prison sentences.

Kathy Blackburn and her then-husband Dan Blackburn were missionaries who served in Haiti for more than a decade. While they were there, locals began to leave unwanted or handicapped children on their doorstep. They ended up adopting 28 children who were left in their care.

When they returned to the United States in the early 1990s, they had no place to go until church friends in Columbus took it upon themselves to help the couple find a place to live.

The Shelbyville Ministerial Association, a community philanthropic group, agreed to help the family and ensure that they were adequately housed and fed. The association spearheaded the house building project, which was financed with charitable donations from people all over Indiana. More than $150,000 was collected. Shelby County resident Carl Mohr heard about the case and offered 5 acres to the association on which the house could be built.

Dozens of people volunteered labor and materials to help build the dormitory style-house, which was completed in 1993.

The Blackburns moved in without signing a lease or paying rent.

Problems surfaced quickly.

The Blackburns and the ministerial association argued over who should have the deed to the house. The deed was put in the association's name.

Soon after the house was completed, the association asked Dan and Kathy Blackburn to incorporate as a charitable organization to satisfy the deed restriction, but they never did, nor did they seek a charitable organization to take on the responsibility of helping them.

The Blackburns felt the property should be deeded over to them in the first place, so they felt the stipulation was a moot point.

In 1996, Kathy and Dan Blackburn divorced after 30 years of marriage. There was a custody dispute over the children, and over the years the house fell into disrepair. Dan Blackburn now lives in another state.

A lengthy list of repairs has accumulated. For example, the long dirt lane leading to the property is almost impassable with holes; four of the eight skylights leak; gutters need to be cleaned; some electrical outlets need to be fixed; only one of four ovens works in the hand-me-down stoves given to the family; and other problems have arisen that go unattended for lack of money, Blackburn said.

"The property is run down," said Shelbyville attorney Mark McNeely, who is representing the association.

Blackburn says the house should never have been deeded to the association and cites an advertisement that appeared in a Columbus newspaper. It stated in part, "Some friends of Danny and Kathy have banded together and obtained an option to buy property of adequate size with the goal of deeding it to them debt free."

In the court case, Rodney Beheler, a former president of the Shelby County Ministerial Association who pastors a church in New Castle, testified in a deposition that in his "knowledge of the whole situation, that doesn't sound like anything that was advertised once the project hit Shelbyville."

Shelby Superior Court Judge Jack Tandy this year sent the parties to mediation, and it was agreed that the property would be sold and the proceeds would be split, with 65 percent going to Blackburn and 35 percent going to the Ministerial Association. Only one offer has been received on the property, for $35,000. The property is valued at $150,000 or more, according to McNeely.

An agreement accompanying the deed to the property places restrictions on its use. It states that the property must be "used only by recognized charitable, tax-exempt organization for the benefit of Dan and Kathy Blackburn and their unemancipated children or for some similar charitable purpose benefiting the youth of Shelby County."

The court has since removed that restriction, allowing anyone to make an offer on the property, not just a charitable organization.

The hearing on April 19 will determine whether or not the solitary $35,000 bid on the property can be accepted or if the judge rules that the property will be sold by auction, which is what McNeely wants for the association.

The association has dwindled in number from about 14 pastors to four. "It is a loosely organized group," said Mike Lane, pastor of the St. Paul Methodist Church in Shelby County. He is the current president of the group.

Lane said the organization probably will be disbanded once the Blackburn case is settled. Any of the association's portion of the funds left from the sale of the property will be applied to outstanding bills first, such as filing fees. If any money is left over after that, the funds will be dispersed to a charitable organization and to reimburse McNeely, who is working without pay for the association, Lane said.

"He needs some kind of compensation for all the work he has done," Lane said.

Meanwhile, Kathy Blackburn still lives in the house.

She collects $130 month in welfare and food stamps, and $300 a month Social Security disability as a result of the amputation of half of her left leg three years ago due to Raynaud's Disease, a circulation disorder.

Those sons living with her work and contribute by helping pay utility and other bills and doing housework, Blackburn said.

"I only have two unemployed children that are not in school, and both are looking for a job," Blackburn said.

Blackburn wants to stay in the house and pursue a women's ministry, providing a place of comfort for women with problems.

"This is the best time of my life," Blackburn said. "I'm free to devote my time and service (to God) with what I've learned over the years. It makes my experiences worthwhile."


Pound Pup Legacy