By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 in Americus, Georgia. Further promoted by former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, helping deserving families fulfill the dream of homeownership soon became reality.
In 1994 a small Habitat for Humanity movement began in Marshfield by two individuals from the First Presbyterian Church. The program gained some momentum a year later when Barb Mahler took the lead.
As the organization struggled to gain its footing, the 1995 Leadership Marshfield class was being recruited. Two members of that class bonded together in an effort to aid Habitat for Humanity: Linda Bodien, a nurse manager in oncology at Saint Joseph’s Hospital at the time, and Virginia Narlock, the then program director for Laboratory Education.
“There was just the two of us on (this project),” explained Narlock. “There were some that had three, and I think that one had six. The Youth Centre Feasibility had six.
“I knew of Linda Bodien from the hospital. We kind of got acquainted there. We both served on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity, so we just got acquainted and decided to do something because Habitat was new coming into Marshfield.”
“We wanted to develop a public relations committee to make Marshfield aware of what Habitat for Humanity was, so establishing that public relations committee was our project,” added Narlock.
“We got some information from other Habitat chapters to find out what they were doing and how they were bringing it to their communities, how they made the communities aware of what Habitat was. That gave us ideas,” she said.
The duo formed a presentation, which they used through the Leadership Marshfield program to promote Habitat for Humanity’s work.
“Linda’s husband was a carpenter, and he put together pieces of a house — like a doll house. As we did our presentation, we built that house as we talked,” recalled Narlock.
With the help of a Habitat for Humanity team, Narlock and Bodien wrote three letters that went out to local organizations, churches, corporations, and individuals who had been past supporters of other Habitat chapters.
“We made the whole community aware of Habitat and the need that there was and how the whole system worked. It wasn’t a giveaway. The families had to put in their time and help build their home. It’s just that they got a very low interest rate,” said Narlock.
“It made housing accessible to families that otherwise would never have had a home of their own. The need has not left us. It is still out there in the community,” she added.
On Jan. 1, 1996, the Marshfield chapter of Habitat for Humanity officially became the 24th in the state of Wisconsin. Dave and Bev Williams and their children were the first partner family to work with the chapter in building their Spencer home. The home was dedicated in December 1996.
Since its formation, the Marshfield chapter of Habitat for Humanity has provided resources for 17 community homes.