For more than three decades, Kay Whetzel and her husband, Pastor Gary Whetzel, have helped people in need in Mansfield.
Now, Kay Whetzel needs help, and the response from Mansfield churches has been overwhelming.
The couple started Living Word Outreach in their garage in 1983, where they opened a food pantry, sponsored 27 Kenyan orphans and set up a thrift store to pay the bills for the charity and their church, Mansfield Christian Fellowship, on First Street.
But when Gary Whetzel got sick three years ago, doing maintenance on their 90-year-old home was not on Kay Whetzel’s mind. A year and a half after Gary’s death, though, things had reached a crisis point.
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“The floorboards had been getting shaky and there was a hole in the bedroom floor,” Kay Whetzel said. “I hammered a piece of tin over the hole because I could fall through.
“I prayed about it and the Holy Spirit told me to call Don Miller,” she said.
Miller, who organizes Mansfield’s Habitat for Humanity builds, saw a lot more than a hole in the floor of the Rendon home. The bathroom was sinking, the roof leaked, there was a hole in the wall where an air conditioning unit used to be, uneven stones on the front walk, a chilly screened porch, sagging ceilings and a need for paint inside and out.
“Her doctor told her she needs to get out of that house,” said Miller, who is the executive pastor at First Baptist Church. “I realized it was going to be more than our church had resources. I knew Gary was well known for taking care of people in the community. I knew we could spread the word and people would step up.”
Five churches did, volunteering to divide up the needed repairs. First Methodist fixed the hole in the wall and replaced siding, put new galvanized steel skirting around the bottom of the house, repaired the sagging ceiling and gutted the sinking bathroom. Walnut Ridge Baptist will repair and replace the bathroom. Bethlehem Baptist Church will paint the ceiling and bedroom. First Baptist donated new windows and doors for the screened porch and will fix the hole in the bedroom floor. And the Knights of Columbus from St. Jude Catholic Church will paint the house’s exterior. Tops Roofing replaced the tin roof and removed the leaking chimney, and a local landscaper is going to fix the front walk.
“We’re hoping all but the painting outside will be done for Christmas,” Miller said.
Gary Whetzel’s church and charity, Mansfield Christian Fellowship and Living Word Outreach, built ramps at the front and back of his home when he got sick. Church members would like to have done the repairs, but the 30-member congregation is stretched thin, said Cathy Wooddell, the food pantry director. The church passed out 250 Thanksgiving meals last week, and is preparing to help hundreds for Christmas.
“I think everybody just loves Gary and Kay,” Wooddell said. “If we had the finances, we would have done it all.”
Kay Whetzel, who only asked for help repairing the hole in her floor, was surprised by the outpouring of help.
“At first, there was pride,” she admitted. “I was anxious when they started telling me what needed fixing. There has not been one time since Gary passed away that God has not sent someone or one of my children to help.”
Gary Whetzel fought back from a heart attack, prostate cancer and five brain bleeds, his wife said. But when he came home from church on Maundy Thursday in 2015, she knew something was very wrong. Doctors found three malignant brain tumors and operated on the largest — the size of a grapefruit — on Easter Sunday. The other two tumors were mapped for radiation, and the radiation is what wore him down, Kay Whetzel said. Doctors later found a mass in his lungs.
“He had such faith,” Kay Whetzel said of her husband of 51 years. “He said ‘God will provide.’ He was one of the best men God ever created on this earth.”
Kay Whetzel has a rare pulmonary disease and heats her home with propane heaters. After the first wave of volunteers replaced windows, the hole in the wall and put skirting on the bottom of the house, the home is already warmer, she said.
The churches have worked together before, although they usually work independently, said Susan Luttrell, serving and outreach director for First United Methodist Church. On this project, though, there was plenty of work to go around.
“We’re honoring Gary and Kay’s legacy in the community,” she said. “The ability to take care of one of our pastors’ wives is a responsibility. It’s always nice to give back to someone who has given so much.”