Group remembers Reagan but focuses on Habitat mission

June 11, 2004|by Alicia Notarianni

Each year for the past 14 years, East Jordan United Methodist Church in Sterling, Ill., has gathered a group of people, picked a distant Habitat for Humanity work site, and set off to assist with construction for a week. This year they chose 427 Liberty St. in Hagerstown.

The group left Sterling on Saturday, June 5, the same day that a local icon, President Ronald Reagan, passed away. In a farming community about 100 miles west of Chicago, the Methodist church draws its congregation from several surrounding small towns, including Dixon, Ill., where Reagan lived as a boy. And the group wound up near Washington, D.C., at the time that the late president was being brought to the city.

"We throw a dart on the wall and go where the Lord leads us to go," said Jonathan Koch, 41, of Dixon, during a dinner the church group hosted for Washington County Habitat for Humanity's staff and board of directors Wednesday, June 9, at the Presbyterian Church of Hagers-town.


Jordan Turner, 14, of Dixon, is one of the 10 youths and 13 adults who made the trip to Hagers-town.

"(Reagan's) childhood home is still there, and it's modeled after how it was when he lived there," Jordan said.

Matthew Deets, 14, of Polo, Ill., said, "There are a bunch of big memorials and things going on in Dixon."

Alan McFalls of Carbondale, Ill., said he and the group were on their way to Hagerstown when they heard about Reagan's death, and the crew thought about taking a trip to Washington, D.C., but opted to concentrate on its Habitat mission.

Chuck Haines, 72, of Sterling, said learning of Reagan's death stirred up memories for him from home.

"(Ronald Reagan) was well respected in that area," Haines said. But as for the possibility of paying his respects in Washington while visiting Hagerstown, he figured it would be an ordeal to get close to the late former president.

Renee Sheaffer, 17, of Dixon, said it seemed strange when she learned Reagan had died because he had lived in her area as a boy and was the same age as her grandfather. Renee said she would be interested to go to Washington, D.C., to pay tribute as Reagan lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda, but she thought it would be too crowded.

Doris Nipps, Washington County Commissioner and community coordinator for Habitat for Humanity, said the Illinois group has been wonderful to work with and is doing a terrific job on the housing project. Since Monday, the group has worked on rafters, sheeting, shingles, front porch work and cleanup.

"They've been traveling around doing this for 14 years, and they have a lot of experience," Nipps said. "They're work has paid off. It's helped us out tremendously."

Sherry Brown-Cooper, executive director of Washington County Habitat for Humanity, said the group is fast.

"We had to scurry around trying to keep up on the supplier's end," she said.

Steve White, 42, of Smithsburg, a member of the board of directors, visited the site Wednesday.

"It looks amazing," he said. "They have done so much in such a short period of time.

"Can you believe they are treating us to dinner and not the other way around?"

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