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Flooding least of West Michigan family's problems

AP Wire • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:34 PM

The hard part for the musician, electrician and environmentalist has been coping with the aftermath of something else: A neighbor is accused of ransacking and destroying irreplaceable property at Ling's Comstock Park home. He and his family also are learning how to accept the outpouring of support from friends, including benefit concerts in their honor.

"This is not our first rodeo — we've been through high water before," Ling told The Associated Press by phone Friday morning as he reflected on the ordeal that started April 18 amid days of record-setting flooding.

"Right now, it's a real tough one — I'm over at the house now, trying to go through this. It just hit me how overwhelming this task in front of me is."

The neighbor, Mark Vandermolen, has been charged with felonious assault, home invasion and malicious destruction of property, and is free on a $100,000 bond. Authorities accuse Vandermolen of firing three shots at Ling's wife, Rebecca — none of which struck her.

The Lings say they have had trouble with Vandermolen on numerous occasions and have filed personal protection orders against him.

Bruce Ling, founder and frontman of the old-time folk infused Hawks & Owls string band, returned from a boat trip in which he took belongings to a friend's house on higher ground and said he found his wife "up against the wall, white as a sheet, talking to the sheriff's department."

The next day, the Lings returned home from the friend's house to find all the windows broken and the upshot of the destructive spree.

He said many items were thrown out of the house and into the swollen Grand River, or smashed and trashed in the home's standing water and mud. Among the ruins: a daguerreotype of his great-grandparents, a 19th century collection of bone china and a fiddle that's "not flood-damaged, it's shattered."

Ling, a weather observer for the National Weather Service, said the flood gauge in his backyard measured the river's water at about 18 feet — 6 feet above flood stage. He said it was largest flood in more than a century and biggest in recorded history for the area.

While the process of recovering and rebuilding their lives will be painstaking, Ling said he's blessed to have his wife safe and his primary stringed instruments — including vintage fiddles, guitars and mandolins — protected at the friend's house where they are staying.

He plans to bring some along Sunday to the first of two benefit concerts at a "music barn" north of Grand Rapids in Newaygo County's Big Prairie Township. The second is scheduled May 12 at the city's The Intersection music venue. Friends also have established the Bruce and Becca Ling Benefit Fund at Chemical Bank.

Ling said he's humbled by all of the help and has trouble asking for it — he and his wife are usually on the other side of the volunteering table.

But bills are mounting and he hasn't been able to work much while dealing with his home.

"I feel astounded that this entire musical community in West Michigan, and the state of Michigan, is rallying," he said.

Ling said he feels a profound sense of grief over losing their home of 20 years to which they won't return. He grew up along the Calumet River on Chicago's South Side, has "lived on water literally my entire life" and knows that will shape his decision about where to relocate.

"I've got to be on water — just not below dams or where it floods," he said.

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