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Building the house of God: Freeland volunteer-students wrap up six-year project
Nestled together in a beautiful room of wood and sunlight, a handful of Unity of Whidbey worshipers sat clapping and smiling.
They were there to praise God, but at that moment their attention was directed toward Freeland resident Frank Mestemacher. It is, after all, because of him and more than 100 college students that the small congregation has such a lovely place to worship.
“Unity hasn’t always had it this good,” said Donna Vanderheiden, president of the church’s board. “Some half dozen or so years ago, this place was just our dream — our vision. Now it has manifested.”
Mestemacher was honored with a plaque this past Sunday, commemorating his involvement in the construction of the church’s new facility on Crawford Road, a few miles east of Bayview on Highway 525.
Mestemacher is the instructor at the Seattle Center Community College’s Wood Technology Center and he, along with his students, spent that past six years building Unity of Whidbey’s new home — for free.
While it was “pretty cool ... that someone went through the trouble to do this,” Mestemacher shrugged off much of the credit.
“I just like building stuff,” he said. “And I was just the instructor. The students did all the work.”
The congregation purchased the property years ago with the intention of one day building a new church. The property was prepared for development, but money for construction was still tight.
Mestemacher heard about the effort from a friend and was quick to help. A retired South Whidbey Fire/EMS captain, he is no stranger to volunteerism or looking for mutually-beneficial projects for the Wood Technology Center.
The Clinton Beach park at the ferry dock was also constructed by his students. Projects like that make sense, he said. The students get a chance to build something without the cost of materials, and community projects are made a little more affordable.
“I look at it as a win-win,” Mestemacher said.
The church was built in modules and then trucked to the site for final assembly. Unity Hall, where services are now held, was constructed first, and then followed by an education/administration building.
Karl Harris, a Clinton resident and longtime member of the church, said he is more than satisfied with the finished result. Many people, including members of the congregation, volunteered with Mestemacher and his students to make the facility a reality, and it exceeded his expectations.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Harris said. “It’s even better than what I envisioned.”
While Mestemacher maintains such projects are mutually beneficial, he said it is of course personally gratifying to give back to South Whidbey.
“It’s also my community,” he said.
The church is planning to build a worship center on the site one day and Vanderheiden said, “We can only hope and pray your carpentry program wants another project.”