Bennington Banner – November 15, 1997
Local Slater donates roof, labor to needy church in South Carolina
Bennington – While most families are sitting down to their Thanksgiving feasts this year, members of one Bennington family will be climbing ladders, after a 900 mile drive, to complete a project they started in May.
And members of the Butler Chapel of African Methodist Episcopal church will surely be giving thanks to Bennington resident Rick Wright and his family and friends.
At the request of his 12-year-old daughter Corrigan, Wright arranged to donate a 12,000 square-foot Vermont slate roof to the South Carolina church, which was destroyed in a racially motivated blaze in March 1996.
“The people we met there thought we were angels,” Wright said Thursday evening. “We wanted them to know that the forces who rebuilt their church are stronger than those who burned. It.’
It took Wright’s three-person force – himself, his 18-year-old daughter Elizabeth and friend Daniel Watley – 33 days to attach 73,000 pounds of sea green slate atop the wooden frame of the church which was being rebuilt by bands of volunteers. “I can’t believe to this day that we did it, “ Wright said.
“We turned tragedy into triumph,” Wright continued, “and they have the prettiest roof in South Carolina.”
Elizabeth is eager to get the job done and said she enjoyed spending her summer vacation working with her father in Orangeburg. “She was a real warrior,” Wright said proudly, looking at Elizabeth. “She hauled slate day after day.”
Butler Chapel was one of dozens southern churches belonging primarily to black congregations that were destroyed by fire in the past few years. Wright chose this particular church because he had worked in the area before and he sympathized with its small, mostly elderly congregation.
“The church was about more that just religion, “ Wright said, looking at a sea of photographs of the project spread out on his table. “It was their school, the only school they could go to during segregation.” Many of the people he met actually knew relatives who had been slaves.
“We offered them some hope, and they took our roof, “Wright said.
A son of former Vermont Speaker Ralph Wright, the 38-year old Vail Road resident has been a roofer for a dozen years. He decided to specialize in slate roofs about eight years ago when founded his own company, Vermont Slate Wright.
“Slate last forever.” Wright said. “Its environmentally safe, it won’t burn and it’s biodegradable. That church won’t need another roof until the year 2230.”
Wright said Miriam Mack, the contractor in charge of the rebuilding project, didn’t know what slate was when Wright contacted home and offered to donate the roof.
Mack quickly became educated about the stone, quarried by John Hill of Greenstone Slate in Poultney, when two tractor trailers pulled into the church site in May.
Wright said when word of his project got out, people started coming forward to offer their services and money. Hill, Wright’s supplier, gave Wright a deal on the slate, trucker Mike Lavoie hauled the slate for free, Wright’s Customers Barbara Levin of Dorset and Andy Flanigan both donated money to help the effort, he said.
“My wife Cindy has put up with a lot of these crazy ideas I have, “ Wright said, “and she never once asked what I was doing with the money.”
Wright said a paying customer would have shelled out about $100,000 for the same roof he put on Butler Chapel.
“I took a different approach, Wright said, “ I’m not rich but I decided to lay some money on the line and invest in people.” He hopes his effort will be passed on through generations that will use the church. “In the long run, it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever done. We helped a lot of people and it’ll be there forever,” Wright said.
For 33 rainless days, the trio worked from dawn to dusk, in 100-degree heat, hammering the slate pieces into place while parishioners watched.
On Thanksgiving, Wright his wife Cindy and Elizabeth will return to Orangeburg to put the finishing touch on the roof – copper ridge caps, The first service at the chapel is scheduled for Jan.9, Wright said.
“Besides being my mother’s son, my wife’s husband and my children’s father, this is the proudest thing I’ve ever done,” Wright said. “Just seeing the people’s faces when we finished …”