ELLIS — By 11 o’clock Friday morning, Peggy Waldschmidt and her two high school helpers were on their second gallon of primer paint.
Waldschmidt, an Ellis native transplanted to Lawrence two years ago, had taken on the house painting to help out longtime family friends Frank and Bernette Stadelman, who struggle with health problems. It didn’t take long to realize the peeling paint on the three-story Victorian home built in 1905 was a job way bigger than her.
“My kids were kind of worried about me, thinking I took on more than I could chew,” Waldschmidt said. “They were right.”
Her niece convinced her to send out a request for help Wednesday night on Facebook to her 35 followers.
“I never expected anyone to show up at 7:30 in the morning,” said Waldschmidt, standing high on a ladder to brush white oil-based primer on a ceiling beam running the length of the porch.
But Thursday morning, they did.
“Three young men showed up yesterday, one of them was kind of in trouble and his mom said, ‘You’re going to do this.’ Two were juniors in high school and one was in eighth grade,” Waldschmidt said. “They got quite a bit done.”
Waldschmidt returned early Friday morning.
“I saw Zach,” she said, “and I thought, ‘Has this young man lost his way?’”
Zach Schiel, 16, was equally perplexed when he pulled up to 614 Madison Street and glimpsed Waldschmidt.
“I was expecting a whole bunch of people, but it was just Peggy walking around the outside of the house,” Schiel said. “I was sitting in my car thinking, it’s sprinkling and nobody paints in the rain.”
Schiel started on the front porch, where not a sliver of paint remained on the deck from the last time the house was painted in 1972.
“Zach went through every crack on that porch this morning to get the dirt out,” said Waldschmidt.
Schiel wasn’t sure which tool he used.
“I don’t know what it is, but my woodworking teacher at school calls it a putty knife,” said Schiel, who will be a junior at Ellis High School.
Around 9 o’clock, 16-year-old Maggie James was heading home from morning mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church up the street.
“I don’t normally go mornings, but I was going back home and I saw Zach out here and wondered, ‘What are they doing?' ” said James, also a junior-to-be at Ellis High. When she found out, she asked Peggy, “Do you still need help?”
Friday wasn’t James’s first time painting. She spent a week earlier this summer in Abilene with a Prayer in Action team through the Salina Diocese mission program. She was among a group of 80 kids in teams of 10 doing work for people needing help. Her team stained a big house for a single mom.
“It would have been a lot for her to do by herself,” said James. “That house was not as big as this one, this is huge. But I was on a ladder most of the week.”
Wondering if anyone else might show up Friday, James expressed the wish that if anyone did come, she hoped they’d bring a portable speaker; the charge on hers had run down. Without it, there was just the coo of a mourning dove, the swish swish of three paint brushes, and a vehicle passing now and again a few blocks away on Washington Street.
“It’s kind of cool to serve people here in Ellis,” she said. “I wish there was more people here. With just us two it’s kind of boring, but it’ll get done. I just really didn’t know I was going to be here.”
Waldschmidt appreciated Friday’s partly cloudy sky, which was a relief from the sweltering 90-plus temperatures Thursday.
Inexperienced at painting, Waldschmidt said she received guidance from a friend in Ellis who restores old houses, and who explained to her the paint had to be scraped, the siding sanded, oil-based primer applied, and then latex paint applied. A contractor was being hired to do the second and third floors.
By late Friday morning, Waldschmidt and her helpers still had to apply primer to the south, north and west sides, including the dozens of window screen frames to scrape, clean and paint.
“The west and north will be easier because they don’t have all the porches and pillars, most of it’s just straight up and down,” she said.
Schiel had never house painted before, but came at the request of Leonard Schoenberger, who operates the Ellis Food Pantry, where Schiel puts in a lot of hours.
Schiel wants community service hours to help him get into the National Honor Society, but also partly because he just likes to volunteer, he said.
“It just makes me feel good about myself, knowing I’m helping people out,” Schiel said. “I think this is a pretty good idea, because it’s helping people out, especially older people, who need it the most.”
Schoenberger organizes volunteers around Ellis for a lot of projects, and when he heard about Waldschmidt’s efforts, he started making the calls.
“Everybody was kind of busy with summer sports, so it was slow getting started,” said Schoenberger. “You know our young people are busy 24-7, and it seems the families are too, but people have good hearts and Ellis has been really good about volunteers stepping up. They turn out to help a lot.”
He won't be picking up a brush.
“I’m 81 years old and I can’t paint too much anymore,” he said.
Saturday there were four more young volunteers, and a lady from the church was bringing snacks for breaks.
Frank Stadelman bought the house in 1964, just a year out of high school, instead of using his money for a car as he originally intended.
“People thought I was crazy, being single and buying a house,” he said. “I had my parents move in, and gave them a home for the rest of their lives. My brother and his wife lived on the second floor for a while. And then I got married and we lived here and raised our family. But we all ate by the same table.”
When Waldschmidt saw the house in disrepair on a recent trip back, she told a friend that the Stadelmans were always helping others, and now it was time to help them. A retired nurse, Waldschmidt, until the house painting, normally spends her time with her kids and grandkids.
“I’ve had to put that on hold a little bit,” she grinned.
Her grandson, Seth Fuller, of Hays, and niece, Debbie Courville, of Belleville, had been out to help earlier in the week.
“This week, young people are showing up,” she said. “It’s really amazing. I’m so thankful and grateful.”
So are the Stadelmans.
“It made me feel good, I didn’t think anybody would ever do that for me,” said Frank. “It looks nicer already with the primer on.”