For most Americans, their homes are sanctuaries. They are places where memories are made, where holidays are celebrated and where welcomes and farewells are said.
And that’s a big reason that the American dream is still home ownership, even as mortgage rates and home prices rise.
Kim Bramlage of Dayton never thought home ownership was within her reach while renting a house in northwest Dayton to raise her two sons after her divorce. She grew up in Troy and attended Wright State University and today works at Five Rivers Health Centers as a marketing communications manager.
“My first job out of college was at the National Aviation Hall of Fame,” Bramlage said. “I met my best friend, Kay (Plzak Fuhrman) when I worked at Dayton Power and Light.”
That was 35 years ago, and like many best friends, Bramlage and Fuhrman were drawn together by common ground. They had children of similar ages and celebrated life moments together. Bramlage became a frequent visitor to Fuhrman’s parents’ – Jerry and Romelle Plzak – home in the Forest Ridge community near Riverside.
“Jerry worked at the base as an engineer and Romelle worked at Valley Street Market for many years,” Bramlage said. “Romelle raised three children and often babysat for my son.”
After Fuhrman relocated to Dallas, Texas, for work, Bramlage remained close to her family, becoming a surrogate daughter to Fuhrman’s parents and helping them as much as possible.
Though Jerry died in 1994, Romelle continued to live in the house they bought together in 1965 – one of the first Ryan Homes built in Forest Ridge. Fuhrman said her parent chose Forest Ridge because of its proximity to Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
“My dad wanted to live close to work,” Fuhrman said. “He came home for lunch every day.”
In 2019, when Romelle was diagnosed with Leukemia, Fuhrman was grateful that her best friend was nearby and able to look after her mom.
“My mom was very strong and independent and never gave up,” Fuhrman said. “Kim loved my mom and did so much to help her and my family.”
Romelle passed away in January of 2021 after contracting COVID-19. Her three children returned to their childhood home to sift through a lifetime of memories. Fuhrman and her brothers decided to contact Kim and ask her if she was interested in buying their parents’ home.
“I had been renting my little house for 13 years and was thinking about making a move,” Bramlage said. “I wasn’t sure I could afford to buy a house.”
But Fuhrman’s offer was too good to pass up. The family felt good knowing that Bramlage would be in the home where they grew up and believed their parents would have wanted that. It felt like it would be staying in the family.
“My lease was coincidentally up on June 1st of 2021,” Bramlage said. “And my landlord sent me a letter letting me know he was going to sell the house. It was like the universe was telling me this was the right thing to do.”
Fuhrman and her brothers took the personal items they wanted and held an estate sale. But Bramlage was able to keep a few items that had sentimental value to her – including furniture and antiques. Bramlage also asked her friend how she felt about her making changes to the house, which was officially hers in May of 2021.
“The house needed new flooring and paint, but the bones were good,” Bramlage said. “Kay told me to make the house my own because her mom would have wanted it that way.”
Now a little more than a year later, Bramlage and her dog Buck, whom she adopted from the Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals (SICSA) in Dayton, are settled into the house that still holds so many memories for her. Her best friend visited her in July for the first time since she moved in.
“There were a lot of tears for both of us,” Bramlage said. “Kay was so happy with the changes and kept saying it was meant to be. She felt her mom’s spirit everywhere.”
Bramlage turned Fuhrman’s former bedroom into a den and TV room and hung a framed picture of Romelle and her daughter on the wall. When she rakes the autumn leaves from the yard, she thinks of Romelle and all the years she helped her work in that same yard.
“This will probably be my forever home,” Bramlage said. “Buck loves the back yard and I feel so fortunate and blessed to have it.”
For Fuhrman, selling the home to her best friend has made all the difference for their family because they knew how much Bramlage loved their parents.
“The house has a story to tell,” Fuhrman said. “It has been loved and is still loved and my parents will always be remembered. Their story lives on in the house, all thanks to Kim.”