The Anderson family was nearly down to its last dime when misfortune improbably struck again on Interstate 90 between Sundance and Gillette.

The Anderson family was nearly down to its last dime when misfortune improbably struck again on Interstate 90 between Sundance and Gillette.

Mark Bunney, who works at Brake Supply in Casper, was returning from delivering to customers in South Dakota when he saw wild turkeys crossing the freeway. He slowed to 10 mph. The Andersons’ 2013 Suburban rental hit one of the birds doing 70.

“It flew up in the air and they hit it in midair. It was like a pillow fight, turkey feathers everywhere – in the sky, on their hood – it was nuts,” Bunney said.

The turkey shattered the vehicle's windshield, leaving shards of glass on Lenne Anderson’s lap.

It did not take long for Bunney to learn the family was on a tight budget and in a hurry to get home to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. He saw young children in the Suburban and he found out another member of the family in the trailing car was very sick.

“I said my family could help out,” Bunney said.

Most people see the Andersons’ trip from Coeur d’Alene to Joplin, Mo., and back as a string of terrible luck. Heather Anderson, Lenne’s third-eldest daughter, sees only the blessings given by Wyoming strangers.

Family emergency

Lenne received a call from her daughter Elizabeth’s sweetheart in Missouri earlier this month. He said Elizabeth was in the ICU in Carthage, Mo., with a failing liver and doctors were moving her to Joplin where they could give her more help if her heart failed.

“Beth is only 28 years old and has an 18-month-old baby and a stepson that is 6 years old,” Lenne said. “How could she not let us know?”

Lenne called a family meeting in Idaho. She put her daughter Heather in charge of reserving hotels for the trip to Joplin and coordinating doctors and medical information for Elizabeth for when the entire family returned home. Lenne and her eldest daughter, Natalie, arranged time off work and absences from college. The whole family pooled its money together.

“Absolutely, all of us from the very, very start felt the same way,” Heather said. “Anything lost or sold or broken in the process of getting them is nothing to the lives and relationships we were bringing up.”

With a little less than $2,000 in their pockets, Lenne and daughters Natalie and Heather took off in Lenne’s 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan. It was rusting through in places, it stank of antifreeze, and exposed wires hung every which way. It was also their only ride to Missouri.

“Mom took out a title loan on ol’ 'Trusty Rusty,' that’s what she used to call it, and we were going to drive that across the country,” Heather said. “That was the most suitable vehicle between all of us.”

The Andersons were only 20 miles outside of Sundance early on the second morning of their drive when they heard a boom, then a tick, tick, tick. They pulled over and the daughters looked underneath the van only to see fluids pouring out all over the blacktop. Trusty Rusty had met its ignoble end.

A call to AAA brought Jack Kari, of Heavenly Repair, to the ladies' aid. Kari is based out of St. Onge, S.D., and services northeastern Wyoming.

Kari spent the day driving the family where it needed to go, helping it get covered by AAA and taking it to the closest rental car company, in Rapid City, S.D.

“Our angel Jack then helped us drag everything out of the van and into the [vehicle] we rented,” Lenne said. “Jack didn’t have to do any of that, but he did, and we couldn’t thank him enough.”

A second act of kindness

The rental and the extra night in a hotel room meant that by the time the Andersons found themselves once again stranded on this stretch of I-90 – now with sister Elizabeth, her boyfriend Jack and their dog in a car behind them while the kids rode in the lead car – the family was way over budget.

“We were shocked, but somehow, someway, God put a calmness in our heart and told each one of us in that moment, that it was going to be OK,” Anderson said. “We should have been really, really freaked out thinking we might not make it home and all this and that.”

Bunney offered to drive Heather and Elizabeth into Gillette to round up a tow truck, but the family felt certain that thanks to the insurance the rental company had provided, a new car would arrive soon.

Nonetheless, Bunney insisted Heather take his charge card.

It was dark and cold by the time the replacement vehicle arrived. The family had no money to pay for a hotel, for gas, even for food. Heather’s fingers brushed the card Bunney left her and she decided to make the call.

“I could tell the whole family was having some tough luck,” Bunney said. “I was just trying to help make the situation better.”

Bunney called ahead to a hotel and secured two adjoining rooms, plus the pet fee, so the whole family could be together. Then he ordered several large pizzas, a couple of big sodas and some cinnamon sticks from a pizza restaurant.

“It was one of the nicest places we ever stayed at, it was such a treat,” Lenne said. “They were huge pizzas, and desserts with cinnamon and icing all over, and two big, giant soda pops.”

After hours trapped in vehicles and days of surviving off road food, the Andersons finally had a chance to stretch, feel secure and be full.

“They were greatly appreciative,” Bunney said. “I just told them, anytime you come through here, think of us. We’re a pretty good bunch of people that live out here.”

Now back in Coeur d’Alene, the Anderson family is still struggling. Family members trade use of cars as best they can to get Elizabeth and Lenne to work and Lenne to college. Their house is often cold because all they have is a wood stove, and they don’t have a snowplow to get in and out of Lenne's house. Still, Heather refuses to be anything but optimistic.

“By the grace of God, I know we’ll be OK,” Heather insisted.

She said she lives in a community that gives generously, Elizabeth is recovering well, and her younger sister has opened her Spokane, Wash., home to Elizabeth and her family.

Above all, they are back together.

“I just can’t say enough about the awesome people we met in Sundance and Gillette, Wyoming,” Lenne said. “The genuine kindness and benevolence they showed us. Surely God sent them.”