he usually quiet towns of Freetown and Houston were filled with the sounds of hammers, drills and scrapers Tuesday as volunteers with Jackson County United Way Day of Caring went to work.
In Freetown, volunteers from Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Seymour helped build a hallway connecting buildings at the Freetown and Pershing Township Museum. The museum is on West State Road 58, and the annex is next door on North Union Street.
Russell Fritz, museum curator, said that, without the six helpers, he would’ve been on his own for the project.
“I’m old and slow,” he said with a chuckle.
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About 5 miles away in Houston, a group of about 10 Wal-Mart employees chipped off faded white paint on the outside of the community’s schoolhouse before adding a fresh coat of paint.
Day of Caring is an opportunity for volunteers to give back to the community through a day of helping various nonprofits in the Jackson County area. Teams give their time to complete some much-needed tasks such as painting, cleaning, landscaping, gardening and general repairs.
Volunteers from Wal-Mart began working at the museum about 9 a.m. and worked most of the day to connect the buildings.
Fritz said the eight-room museum, started in 1994, houses historical pieces from the community’s old school, veteran and military artifacts, and old records and newspapers. He said the current walls have reached maximum capacity, so the annex, which once housed Reva’s Cafe, will allow for more display and storage space.
“People are still bringing stuff. I have seven or eight items that I don’t have anywhere to put,” he said.
Fritz’s wife, Donna Fritz, who owns the ice cream shop across from the museum, said it’s tremendous to see the Day of Caring volunteers in action.
“It’s a blessing,” she said. “Everybody here works, and it’s hard because there’s not a lot of volunteers to help with this kind of a thing.”
She said she’s kept a jar at the ice cream shop to collect money for museum upgrades. She said kids give whatever they can — pennies, nickels and dimes — because they love visiting the museum.
“When you’re a small town like this, you love those things,” Donna Fritz said. “It means a lot.”
Brandon Kessler, a receiving manager at Wal-Mart Distribution Center, was one of the volunteers and has been a part of Day of Caring for about nine years. He said a lot of the employees even gave their time on their day off Tuesday.
“It’s fun to get out in the community and help out,” the Columbus resident said.
Eric Foga, another manager at the distribution center, said it was his first time at the event and he was looking forward to giving back.
“It’s good just to come out and help the people who make our jobs possible,” the North Vernon resident said. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have a job.”
The deadline to complete the hallway is July during the Freetown festival. If that’s not possible, they’d like to have a grand opening in October.
In Houston, more distribution center employees removed old paint from the schoolhouse with the hopes of adding a new layer on top.
The school has not been open to students since 1967, but it is used for anniversary celebrations, community suppers and other events. It’s also home of the annual Houston Fall Festival on the second Saturday of October. That festival serves as a homecoming for the community and brings in a crowd from Jackson County and beyond.
For Larry Anthony, vice president of the Houston School restoration committee, the added help to maintain the building is something that doesn’t happen often.
“The average age of the committee is 75 years-plus,” Anthony said. “A lot of them aren’t able to do physical work anymore.”
He said the building means a lot to him because two aunts and his father used to walk or take a horse and carriage to and from school there.
The Ogilville resident said Tuesday’s goal was to get as much done on the higher parts of the building, so later on other volunteers can finish the bottom parts.
“It’s very much appreciated for the volunteers who come out,” Anthony said.
Ray Faulkner, a receiving operations manager at the distribution center, said the day’s labor was actually a reward for him and the others.
“It’s a historical building here that we’re trying to help save,” the Columbus resident said. “It’s the experience, and it gives you a real sense of pride when you’re done.”
Glenda Ryan, a Houston resident, recalled how a film company wanted to purchase the school in 1992 and burn it down for a movie.
Church members at the time banded together and started staging a festival each year to save the schoolhouse. That’s how the annual fall festival came to be, she said.
“I’m proud to come from a community like that,” Ryan said, who added that her mother attended the school.
Ryan, who is on the school’s restoration committee, said she plans for more good things to come for the building, including a Facebook page she recently set up called Houston School Restoration Committee.
She plans to make a website about the school that will have a link to a festival website.