From logs to school desks

Countywide mission project comes to life
by Jeff Pederson of The Review staff

LARRY AND DIANE HACKBARTH work on constructing a desk as part of a school desk project organized by five local United Methodist Churches in the Sheboygan County Area. Volunteers from throughout the county are currently constructing 25 desks to be shipped to countries in need. — Review photo by Jeff Pederson LARRY AND DIANE HACKBARTH work on constructing a desk as part of a school desk project organized by five local United Methodist Churches in the Sheboygan County Area. Volunteers from throughout the county are currently constructing 25 desks to be shipped to countries in need. — Review photo by Jeff Pederson Proving that you don’t necessarily have to travel thousands of miles to carry out important mission work, volunteers from five local United Methodist Churches and many others from throughout the Sheboygan County area have come together to help those in need without ever leaving their home county.

Last year approximately 20 local volunteers gathered to construct school desks for elementary school children in Belize, Ghana, the Republic of Congo and Liberia.

The group is back at it again this year. This time they are in the process of construction 25 school desks for elementary school children living in countries in need.

Sheboygan Falls residents and Faith United Methodist Church members Rick and Nancy Bigler stumbled upon the school desk project while assisting with a different mission project in 2013.

“We had never really heard of this until we traveled to the United Methodist Church Midwest Distribution Center in Chathan , Illinois in 2013 to deliver flood buckets,” Rick Bigler said. “When we were there, we saw the school desks that they were taking in and getting ready to ship out.

“My brother Jon owns Rolling Hills Tree Farm in Waldo and when we got back, I told him about the desk project,” Rick said. “It kind of spread by word of mouth from there and it got to a point where we had all kinds of people stepping up to volunteer to help out, so we decided to do it last year.”

The multistep construction project has been carried out over the past two years through a carefully coordinated effort among a dedicated group of volunteers.

The basswood logs for this year’s project were donated by Andy, Paul and Fred Leverenz, Mary and Russell Bonde.

Paul and Fred Leverenz also milled the logs into boards last June at their saw mill in Kiel.

“The logs were donated and Paul and Fred did all the milling work at no cost to the project,” Rick Bigler said. “This reduces the cost of the project greatly. We couldn’t have done it without their help and generosity.”

The boards were then moved to Jon Bigler’s Rolling Hills Tree Farm property in Waldo, where they were dried for several months.

In addition, the Gibbsville Sanitary District provided additional storage space for the dried lumber.

After six months of drying time, the construction process began in late December.

“Jon has space in his gift shop, where he sells Christmas wreaths and ornaments during the holidays, for us to put the desks together,” Rick Bigler said. “We started working on the desks in late December and we will continue through the middle of February.

“At Jon’s place the rough boards are planed, cut into desk pieces, sanded and then assembled using nuts, bolts and screws,” he said. “After testing for stability, the desks are taken apart to be finished with polyurethane. A complete check of each desk is done after finishing. When a desk is ready for shipping, all pieces fit into the top, with the bench forming the cover. This makes a box 4 by 1.5 feet long by 4 inches high.”

Through the use of detailed instructions, jigs and a universal coding system, volunteers of all skill and experience levels have been able to contribute to the project.

“Really anyone can do this kind of work if they put their mind to it,” Nancy Bigler said. “Some people get nervous about helping out or say initially that they can’t use certain tools or do certain things, but once they try it, they realize that it isn’t that difficult.

“The feeling you get when you help out with a mission service project like this is just great,” she said.

Construction work takes place five to six days a week from late December to mid-February with volunteers chipping in as they can throughout the process.

“People come in to work when they can,” Rick Bigler said. “We have a number of retired people that have a bit more of a flexible schedule, but we have some younger people helping as well.

“We even have a group of kids from Faith United Methodist Church had come in to help, which is great to see,” he said. “Other people take pieces home and sand them on their own time.”

Volunteers and donations have been essential to the project. Rick and Nancy Bigler stress that the project could not have happened without Jon Bigler’s donation of the use of his shop and equipment.

“Jon has all the equipment and tools we need to do all of the cutting, planing and sanding, which is really important to make this all work,” Rick said. “We really appreciate all he has done for this project. Jon’s saw blades and planer blades have been sharpened for free by Ray Edwards. Also, the delivery of a drum sander by my brother, Tom Bigler, has reduced the time spent hand sanding all the pieces.”

Each desk is valued at $65 with a $30 cost for shipping. Funds have been donated to covered the cost of the desk materials, and it is hoped that a portion of the shipping costs can be covered as well.

“Trinity UMC of Waldo gave $400 of he Audrey Seaman memorial money towards the project this year,” Nancy Bigler said. “Other funding has come from the sale of candy bars at Faith UMC and donations given for fruit and garden produce.”

Volunteers took last year’s desks to the United Methodist Conference at Middleton last April.

Plans are currently being made to deliver this year’s desks directly to the United Methodist Midwest Distribution Center in Chathan, Ill. sometime this spring.

“If problems with delivery are solved in Haiti, a shipment of desks will go there this year,” Nancy Bigler said. “Each piece is marked so that knowledge of English is not needed to put the desk together.”

Wood has been offered for 2016 and the intent is to continue with the project into next year and beyond.

“It is so nice to see all of the churches working together,” Rick Bigler said. “It has been great getting to know people from other churches. We’ve made some close friends through this project. Some people just can’t travel across the world on mission trips, but this offer an inexpensive way to help people that really need it.”

“Our goal is to continue next year and into the future,” Nancy Bigler said. “It is a really neat project that has brought people together for a common goal. We want to keep the enthusiasm going.”

The list of volunteers and contributions for the 2014 and 2015 school desk construction project includes: Jon Bigler, Andy Leverenz, Paul Leverenz, Fred Leverenz, Mary Bonde, Russell Bonde, Russ Hineman, Mark Lau, Jim Callison, Phyllis Calllson, Joe Schneider, Cookie Schneider, Judy Stoneman, Ralph Klein, Bill Yoho, Rick Bigler, Nancy Bigler, Dave Saunders, Magen Saunders, Josh Saunders, Carl TenPas, Caleb TenPas, Paul Hackbarth, Scott Hackbarth, Larry Hackbarth, Diane Hackbarth, Carol Whitman, Kurt Peterson, Tom Bigler and Joe Hilke.

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