By Vanessa Wolf
In November 2014, news of a friend’s terminal illness changed everything.
Up until this point, the Methodist Men—a supportive fellowship at the Main Street United Methodist Church in Dillon—had focused their acts of service on lawn care.
“The Methodist Men started about 15 years ago,” says Ronnie “Catfish” Carter, a key member since the group’s inception. “Back then, we would pick the house of an elderly lady or maybe a family, and we would show up in the morning and clean their yard.
Sometimes we’d go and cut somebody’s hedges or do some raking—whatever the place needed.”
That changed 10 years later. Dr. Phil Wallace, founder of the Methodist Men, learned that his nurse had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She had worked for Wallace for 25 years, and many of the Methodist Men knew her and felt compelled to action.
“We decided that we wanted to build a wheelchair ramp for this young lady,” Carter recalls. “This was our first ramp. We had zero tools and no experience, and we had no idea what we were going to do.”
Carter reached out to a church in Clio that had a ministry building access ramps. They agreed to help, and told the Methodist Men to bring their tools.
“We showed up with claw hammers, and nothing but claw hammers,” Carter notes with a laugh at the memory.
After a minute, one of the men from Clio commented, “If you want, go pound some nails into some 2x4s, but we use nail guns here. We don’t use hammers.”
Nonetheless, the men persevered. That first ramp was 35 feet long and used about $1,300 in materials.
While working on the project, the Methodist Men felt a calling.
“We realized we could help people that maybe can’t afford a ramp when they need it, so we decided to start doing it for them,” Carter says.
Main Street UMC began fundraising to buy tools, a trailer and ramp-building materials. In addition, Carter took a crash course in grant writing, resulting in an initial check for $15,000.
“We thought we had hit the lottery,” he says. “And then we decided that whoever needed a ramp, regardless of means or income, we would build it for them.”
These days, thanks in large part to their carefully documented history of successes, that annual grant has increased to $30,000. Working at a pace of roughly 20 projects a year, the Methodist Men completed its 100th ramp November 21, 2019.
“Somebody asked me what was going to happen when we build the 100th one,” Carter says, “I said, ‘Then we’ll start on number 101.’”
With 16 ramps already on the to-do list, the need is constant.
The group recently built a ramp for an 8-year-old boy who had a stroke. His mother had just died, and his grandmother is raising him. In emergency situations such as this, the team assembles ramps right away.
Even under pressure, the Methodist Men pride themselves on craftsmanship.
“When we build a ramp, we build it like it’s going into one of our own homes,” Carter says. “Everyone has their role. Everyone adds a special skill, from sanding to cutting wood. We build everything by code, and many people have commented that we build them as well as any construction company.”
Comprised entirely of volunteers, there are 54 men on the current mailing list. Each crew is comprised of about 15 people, or whoever happens to show up. Carter humorously describes the group as “a bunch of misfits. We’re the ones that can’t sing in the choir,” he says.
There’s even a sub-group called the Silver Head Crowd, whose members are 70 to 84 years old.
“They run a crew during the week,” Carter say, “And those of us that work, build them on Saturdays, weather permitting.
The biggest ramp they have built was 68-feet long and took a couple days.
“Our rule of thumb is that the Silver Head Crowd likes to start around 9:30 a.m., and when they get tired, they go home,” Carter says. In general, it takes them a couple days to build a ramp.”
On Saturdays, they start at 7 a.m., and take anywhere from six to 12 hours to finish.
“We’ve always finished the same day,” Carter says.
If built commercially, each ramp would cost between $2,800 to $3,500, but the recipients are never charged.
“We’re working for the Lord, and he’s blessed us,” Carter says. “I feel like the good Lord warned us to not judge people,vand that’s why they send us the money. As long as we do his work, the money will keep coming.”
Through Carter’s fundraising efforts, the Methodist Men have been able to expand their mission.
“Last Christmas, we gave out 240 boxes of food and fed 60 families for a month,” he says. “This year, we plan to do the same for 70 families. We also held a golf tournament and were able to donate $28,000 to the local food bank in Dillon. It’s so wonderful that when somebody needs something, you can simply say ‘yes.’”
After the completion of each ramp, the group presents each recipient with a Bible that’s been personally inscribed for them. As a finishing touch, they put a gold cross on each ramp marked with its number and the day it was built.
“We’ve been very blessed to do this, and we enjoy it,” Carter says. “We get this wonderful feeling afterward as we pray over every family.”
The experience leaves a lasting impression on Carter and the other Methodist Men, who keep tabs on each of the families. The group built a ramp for a man with terminal cancer last Christmas. He died a month after it was built, but his widow and wheelchair-bound son use it.
Similarly, the nurse who inspired it all died just three months after the first ramp was built. Her legacy lives on in the Dillon area’s 100—and counting—donated access ramps that have been made with love.