Boston Globe – May 21, 1997
Roofer answers their call
Vermonter to give southern church unusual top: slate
By Yvonne Daley
Bennington, VT – When Rick Wright, was a student struggling through courses at Boston University 20 years ago, his uncle Bill Fitzgerald, who worked as a slate roofer in Somerville, handed him a ripping bar and told him it was the key to his future.
It was a few years before Wright accepted his uncle’s advice to go into the slate roof business but he has never regretted his decision. Now, eight years after starting Vermont Slate Wright of Bennington, Vt., Wright is acknowledging the gift his uncle gave him by donating his skills to a needy cause.
Yesterday, Wright arrived by truck in Orangeburg, S.C., where he is planning to donate 73,000 pieces of slate and his labor to build a new roof on the Butler Chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The church burned down on March 31, 1996, one of dozens of Southern churches belonging primarily to black congregations that have been destroyed or damaged since 1995. However, the Butler chapel fire was not on the list of churches federal authorities investigated as possible arsons.
“I’ve had a lot of gifts in my life and one of them has been finding this work. It’s taken me all over the country and, through it, I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and managed to put food on my table for my family,” said Wright, 38, who is married with three children.
“I can’t always pay the light bill, and lord knows I’m not rich, but giving this roof to that church has felt like the right thing to do ever since we first started talking about it around the dining room table” said Wright, who grew up in Somerville and is the son of former Vermont Speaker of the House Ralph Wright.
Wright credited his daughter Corrigan, 12, with the idea. The family was listening to a news report about the church burnings a year ago when Corrigan suggested that her father give a slate roof to one of the churches. He liked the idea and began making calls. Eventually he heard about the Butler Church in Orangeburg, S.C., which was being rebuilt by volunteers.
“We’re just elated to be getting this slate roof,” Miriam Mack, the contractor in charge of the rebuilding effort, said earlier this week. “It’s going to be kind of unique having a slate roof from Vermont in this part of the country.” Roofs in South Carolina usually are made with shingles or tin.
Wright said he views the slate as statement of lasting hope because the stone comes from the earth and can last several centuries. He chose sea green slate quarried by John Hill, of Greenstone Slate in Poultney, Vt., who gave him a deal. A former customer of Wright’s, Barbara Levin, of Dorset, VT., also made a donation to help with expenses.
Wright estimated he would have charged a paying customer about $110,000 for the slate and labor. He said it will take about six weeks to complete. Wright said he settled on Butler Chapel because it in a rural area and because the church members had struggled without much outside support to rebuild it. He took along his 18-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, he said, because,” she wants to see the country. I felt this was as good an education she could get.”
The Rev. Patrick Mellerson, pastor of the Butler, Chapel, was on hand to greet Wright, Elizabeth, and employee Daniel Watley, when they arrived at the church yesterday. Mellerson planned to nail the first slate onto the roof.
“I told my congregation last week that this roof symbolizes how we have gone from tragedy to triumph,” Mellerson said. “We are really honored…for someone to choose us…. That’s a blessing, a miracle in itself.”