Wiest Family Life:
Barnraising, Sandcastles and Home Improvement

by Steve Wiest

My first day in construction was as a volunteer with 15 Amishmen. We were building a house for a tornado victim in Birmingham, Alabama, with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). In true Amish barn raising fashion, we had that 800 square foot house ready for occupancy in three weeks!

After a year volunteering with MDS, I earned my degree in Business Administration/Economics at Tabor College in Kansas. My side interests were photojournalism and pottery. With a college degree in hand I moved back to Fresno in 1978. That first year out of college I found a job on a Kesterson Development Company framing crew building a subdivision in Clovis. That job ended when the economy went flat in 1979, but the experience with Kesterson taught me about quality construction and a well-organized company.

In 1980 I married Kathy Heinrichs and two months later broke both of my arms and one leg in a construction accident. After Kathy nursed me back to health, I began five years as director of building and grounds maintenance at Fresno Pacific College (now University). There, I gained broad experience in almost every component of buildings and grounds, from air conditioning to gym floor maintenance to locks and keys and soccer field striping. The school also trained me for managing the 40-person team that kept the plant running smoothly, always on a tight budget.

Wiest Family Kentucky

In 1987 we put our belongings in storage and moved our family (18-month-old Stephanie and a very pregnant Kathy) to the hills of Southeastern Kentucky for two years as volunteers with Mennonite Central Committee. LynAnne was born there and we found our young family welcomed into church and community in Neon, Kentucky.

Our assignment was with a start-up local housing non-profit, HOMES, Inc., an agency similar to Habitat for Humanity. HOMES’s work was to build and repair houses for low-income and elderly clients, many of whom were getting an indoor bathroom for the first time. Each situation was unique and required a sensitive listening ear. As director of HOMES, I learned how to listen to clients and understand their real needs.

Kathy and I returned to California in 1989 with our two preschool daughters and settled in Kingsburg. From the start, our construction business was a family affair as Kathy and I consulted in planning and the girls “helped” in my home office with their pretend office procedures. As they got into school age I would bring them along to the jobsite. They were usually happy to help with sweeping or pulling nails and I rewarded them with a trip to Johnson Lumber and their free doughnuts.

It wasn’t long before Stephanie and LynAnne became a genuine asset to Steve Wiest Construction. When their orthodontist decided to have me remodel his office, they helped finance their orthodontia by painting the new walls and doors. They were 10 and 8 years old.

HomeschoolTraining in construction took many forms. During two years of homeschooling I taught them engineering with a popsicle stick bridge that held up 98 pounds of bricks. We also studied electrical circuits, which came in handy later when they helped me pull wires.

A family tradition of sandcastle building was a chance to teach them the aesthetics of construction. Along with the beach blanket and picnic basket, a trip to the coast required a couple of man-sized shovels and a variety of sheetrock and concrete trowels. Building a four-foot-tall sandcastle complete with turrets, verandas, stone arches and multiple staircases was serious business requiring serious tools. Our creations always drew a crowd of onlookers.

Wiest BungalowHome improvement projects of our own were always a family activity, and in 1998 we were thrilled to move into our own 1910 Craftsman home in Kingsburg. A beautiful two-story yellow house on a big corner lot and ten full-grown orange trees was a California dream—and a never ending project. Fall, 1999, found all four of us nailing shingles on the roof of the garage/shop we added to the property. With help from some of my crew we built an office and a family room wing at the back of the house.

There is no end to the ways that construction skills can be used in service to others. Church work days, people with home repair emergencies, building sets for the school play—all these are ways that we have had the opportunity over the years to share some of the riches that God has blessed us with.

Ten years after leaving Southeastern Kentucky we went back for summer, 1999, with a short-term mission program called SWAP (Serving with Appalachian People). I became construction supervisor for groups of youth who came for one-week mission trips to repair homes of elderly and low-income people. Kathy delivered building materials and Stephanie and LynAnne got involved in various ways from helping on the jobsite to assisting the cook in the kitchen. It was another good reminder for all of us that we are blessed so that we can in turn bless others.

Both Stephanie and LynAnne continue to see service as a way of life. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in math at Fresno Pacific University, Stephanie volunteered two years with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). She was administrative assistant at a warehouse in Pennsylvania where volunteers prepare relief supplies for shipment to disaster victims around the world. LynAnne followed suit two years later when she graduated from Tabor College with her degree in graphic design. As of summer, 2010, she is in Cambodia as an MCC volunteer, working with fair trade craft artisans in design and marketing.

Steve serving with MDSA 2010 opportunity for service came to me with a Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) project in rural San Diego County where fire destroyed hundreds of homes in 2007. MDS had rebuilt a number of houses and needed a group to finish one last project. With volunteer labor from churches in Central California, I spent six months coordinating the construction, sometimes commuting to San Diego and sometimes overseeing the work by phone and Facebook. I was awed at the way God brought just the right skills sets at the right time in the construction process.

Kathy and LynAnne were able to join me for a few weeks on the job in San Diego, but Stephanie was busy that spring and summer acquiring tech support for our family business. A new member joined our family in July, 2010, when Stephanie married Steven Eckgren (who happens to be a computer whiz). As of summer, 2010, Stephanie and Steven are settling into married life San Luis Obispo, and LynAnne is learning Khmer in Cambodia. While Kathy and I get re-accustomed to an empty nest we look forward to where God will lead us in this next phase of life.

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