It all started with a call home. Marquelle Woods, a junior nursing major, shared with her mom plans the college had announced to renovate classrooms and other areas of campus. Marquelle felt strongly the college would be better off focusing on rooms in the residence halls if Union was going to attract more students.
As she listened, Susan Woods, Marquelle’s mom, recalled helping her daughter move into Rees Hall for the first time as a freshman. “The drawer was falling apart. The glides had fallen off, and it was difficult to push in. It was hard to miss that it’s an older building.”
With move-in memories and her daughter’s well-reasoned arguments fresh in her mind, Susan summarized their conversation in an email sent through the contact form on Union’s website. She didn’t know who would see it or if she would ever hear back. Then, just a couple of days later, she got a reply from the president of the college.
Vinita Sauder had seen the @maranatha.org email address, and asked if Susan thought Maranatha would be interested in helping on exactly the project her daughter had been wishing for. Susan replied immediately. “I happen to be sitting next to the North American projects director, my husband,” she wrote. “I think we can work something out,’” That kicked off a series of meetings, a site visit and several rounds of budgeting.
With Susan and David Woods coordinating the project for Maranatha and Union’s Advancement team kicking off a fast-paced fundraising initiative, the project came together quickly. Working together, Maranatha volunteers and Union’s Plant Services would renovate 34 rooms in Rees Hall in the three weeks from June 21 to July 13 with a budget of $5,000 per room. It was an ambitious project, and the greatest challenge would be finding skilled volunteers.
“Up until the day before the project started, we had people canceling who had previously committed and had the skills we needed,” Susan said. “David and I were a little bit nervous, but we’ve come to trust God always works things out.”
The workers joked during the first few days at Union that we were like Gideon’s army—a small group winnowed from the larger force. But according to Susan, God had a surprise in store. “People started coming in from the community who we hadn’t expected, and often they were exactly the volunteer we needed: someone to lay the floors, someone to lead out in painting.”
Someone like Roger Stearns, class of 1970. Beloved at Union as Warrior athletics’ number one fan, the former owner of Stearns Painting brought his lifetime of experience in professional painting as well as training and managing workers.
Mick Ray, president of Empire Electric, was another local professional who showed up to volunteer. In addition to giving his own time, he encouraged his employees to help out and paid for their time as if it were any other contract. “I was blown away by Mick’s generosity,” said LuAnn Davis, vice president for Advancement at Union College. “His team’s time and expertise were the gift we really needed, but we would have never thought to ask for.”
According to David Woods, as the initial volunteers’ time ended, there were always new faces eager to keep the project on track. “God’s been a huge part of this thing,” David said, “and He’s a good partner.”
Many hands, one purpose
With stories as diverse as the sixteen states and two countries they came from, all of the 118 volunteers shared the goal of glorifying God through service. Nearly half of the workers had little or no previous connection to Union College. Two such volunteers were Theolene and Nyah Johnson from Florida. They kicked off their mother/daughter vacation with a week of manual labor in Nebraska.
“I’ve done Maranatha mission trips before, but this is the first one I could bring my daughter along,” Theolene shared as she painted. “I told her mission work is God’s work, and God’s work is not just about preaching, but also physical work. Look at Jesus. His life was ministry. He started working when he was 12. He didn’t start preaching until he was 30.”
The other half of the volunteer team was comprised of current and former Union College employees, alumni, parents and members of the local Adventist community—most of whom with areas of expertise that did not include construction and carpentry.
The Woods admired the spirit of the less skilled volunteers who were living examples of Maranatha’s mission to build people through construction. “There were a lot of people trying new things,” Susan said. “David enjoys teaching people, and he spent a lot of time teaching volunteers who had never been in a woodworking shop before to route, sand and assemble cabinets. I was very impressed seeing how they wanted to do things well and paid attention to quality. That’s what we like to see on a Maranatha project because everything we do is for God.”
One of the most labor-intensive parts of the renovation was replacing the drawers, cabinets and bookshelves. Under the supervision of David Woods and Union’s Plant Services team, volunteers built all of the new woodwork by hand, saving the college thousands of dollars and making the project financially possible. “Everything we made is solid oak,” said Bruce McArthur, a volunteer from Florida and parent of a former Rees Hall resident. “Hopefully it will last until Jesus comes.”
Sylvia Quimby was among the alumnae for whom the project was a kind of homecoming. Now living in Florida, she responded to the call for volunteers in a previous issue of CORDmagazine and returned to Rees Hall for the first time since she graduated in 1984. The trip brought back many memories of late nights studying and laughing with friends.
Sylvia was happy to help in any way she could, “I believe no job is too small for anybody,” she said as she taped a room in preparation for painting. “To be a leader, you must be a servant.”
“Every task we do here, painting, scraping … with all these little things we do, we leave a part of ourselves behind,” Sylvia explained. “I hope whoever is in these rooms will have a nice place to study and an experience that lets them bring glory to God in their own ways. ”
To see lists of volunteers and donors to the project as well as photos, visit