Rebuilding a Bathroom in Laurel, Mississippi

Six guys from the United Methodist Men of the First United Methodist Church of Crystal Lake went to Laurel, Mississippi, to do some fixing up.

They pretty much went blind, having a place to stay and an address of a warehouse run by the Methodist Church and a cell phone number of the supervisor, named Buddy Cox.

There was a Fifth Avenue and a Fifth Street and they got the wrong one the first day. The phone number saved the day, even though the, “I forgot you were coming,” on the other end was temporarily disconcerting.

“We really had to work hard to finish this job in a week,” UMM president Jim Nelson told the first Saturday on the month 7:30 breakfast meeting.

“It’s been two years (since Hurricane Katrina). You don’t see trees down.”

“From a Katrina damage viewpoint, there is a lot left,” added Bill Muilkens. “There was ahouse down the block with a blue tarp on it. This isn’t done yet. It’s hanging over us.”

Buddy is the construction coordinator for the Mississippi Conference of the Methodist Church. He looks for projects that are “storm-related.” He’s got about 25 lined up.

“There was a need here,” Nelson said.

Mike Lovejoy was the designated audio-visual person. He provided a narrative along with the pictures.

The group stayed at a retreat called Walkaway Springs about twenty miles north of Laurel. There were not enough people to justify having the retreat’s staff fix meals, so, supplying their own breakfasts, it was sort of a bed and breakfast.

The first picture of the group showed smiling faces “because we haven’t started yet,” Lovejoy said.

He described the neighborhood as being about at the poverty level, maybe a little above.

A mother and her daughter lived in the home the group worked upon.

The assignment involved fixing the roof and rehabbing the 5 by 8 foot bathroom.

“You wouldn’t think it would take a week to remodel it,” Lovejoy observed.

“There was a hole next to the bathtub where you could look down and see mud. We decided right away we’d have to just rip everything out.”

“The tub drain was leaking,” added Bob Riepl.

“It was leaking because it wasn’t connected,” Lovejoy added.

“Some animal had decided to store acorns under the vanity,” Muilkens explained. “They came in through the hole.”

The basic instructions from the man everyone referred to as “Buddy” were that the repaid should be “safe, secure and sanitary.”

While five of the men had taken a two-day van trip to Mississippi, Carl Moon arrived the second day by train.

“Carl pretty well rescued us when he came. Carl is a ‘doer,’” Lovejoy explained.

“Wednesday we ended up working (on drywall) until 10 o’clock.”

That night they had hoped to be able to attend a Bible class in a church that backed up to the grandmother’s home, but, to complete the project by Friday, they had to get the drywall up that night.

One photo showed men sawing in the backyard.

“The saw horse there was the bath tub,” Nelson added.

“Buddy grabbed a couple people for a day to unload a prefab house,” he continued.

The group was told the home would be unloaded in Seminary, which they took to be a religious training facility. It wasn’t. The town was named Seminary.

“All they had to buy was the drywall,” Nelson explained.

The unloading of the prefab was apparently a big deal locally. It made the TV news that night.

Nelson said the group delighted in the names of places. His favorite was Dry Creek Water Park.

Lovejoy explained that that the bathroom joist was a 2 by 4. They replaced it with an 8 by 10.

“While we were down there, we kept smelling this sewer gas,” he continued.

“They had a commode in a back room. All of a sudden we heard water running. It was open.”

The team hooked it up to the sewer system.

Riepl explained that they went to restaurants for dinner.

“Only once we went back and washed up,” he said.

“We didn’t go to any restaurant twice,” Nelson added.

One night, when they smelled, they went to Appleby’s. As they were waiting to be seated a women looked them up and down very carefully..

“They put us as far back as they could and we were next to th(at) lady,” Nelson said.

One thing they didn’t do that Buddy said he likes to have on each project was to designate someone as a “listener.” The men were in “finish the project” mode.

“Bill (Muilkens) was sort of the listener,” Riepl explained. Muilkens is a chaplain at Centegra.

Besides listening and running errands and bringing supplies, Muilkens installed a new fan in the living room. He only dropped it once.

From almost the beginning, it was clear that the Methodist warehouse did not have everything that would be needed for the repair job. It did not stock treated wood, for example.

“Early on, we agreed we’d share the cost of other materials we didn’t have,” Riepl said. “I think we ended up paying $360 in supplies for the building project.”

“The Salvation Army was providing most of the funding (for Katrina repairs),” Riepl revealed. UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, “isn’t sending any money now,” but I am told is still working in the New Orleans area.

Lovejoy told of moving the light switch, which was originally over the sink and whose wires weren’t in a box.

Installing the tub Friday night, when they thought they were finished, “the drain fell apart. Bill was off to Lowe’s to get a replacement,” he continued.

After finishing Friday night and getting back to the retreat center, the six decided to sleep in.

But, at 6 o’clock a bell woke them up.

Just their luck that there was a Cursillo retreat at the non-denominational Walkaway Springs that weekend. A number of the men had attended a Walk to Emmaus, which is based upon the Cursillo tradition, so they knew about the early rising. They just didn’t think about it because they got to be so late.

One said they if they had thought about it they would have put a sign on the door telling the Cursillo team that they were not at their retreat.

Contributing to the success of the trip was that “Everybody was very flexible,” Riepl said.

“I was very moved by the experience,” Lovejoy concluded.

Jim Michaelson was also part of the crew.

= = = = =
In the top photo, Dr. Don Brandeau, Carl Moon, Denny Butson, Pastor Dave Seyller and Jim Nelson look at the pictures from the trip.

Next you see UMM President Jim Nelson introducing the program.

Beneath is Jerry Lindley listening to Nelson.

The route of the 900 mile trip is below right.

Mike Lovejoy explains one of the slides to the men.

In the next photograph, you can see Lovejoy, Jim MIchaelson, who went on the mission as well, Bob Riepl and Huntley.

A closer shot of Riepl and Huntley is below.

The bottom photo shows Bill Muilkens answering a question from a church member sitting in the back. To his left is Nelson. Pastor Dave Seyller is looking at the slide on the screen.

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