By MATT SANDERSON
ECHO PARK — Congregants of Echo Park United Methodist Church know that 81-year-old Walter Elmer is the man to turn to for maintenance and repair. In 2010, the long-time church member stood four stories atop the church’s dome to repaint it gold, and, as the chairman of the board of trustees, Elmer has solved numerous projects large and small with his team of handymen.
Last month, for example, Elmer, along with his crew of Sherman McClellan and Mark Phillip, took on the monumental task to rewire and repair the lighting circuitry that illuminated the church’s parking lot. Instead of paying for an outside contractor, Elmer and crew cut steel conduits and installed new electrical boxes as part of the rewiring. All of the work was completed in time for the AIDS Posada event that lit the parking lot at the end of the processions.
However, Elmer, an Elysian Heights resident and retired teacher who has been a member of the church for more than 50 years, isn’t getting any younger. He said they could use any of kind of carpentry and labor expertise in any field.
“I’m starting to have problems with my legs,” Elmer said. “When painting the dome, physically climbing up there was … a hassle.”
How long have you been attending the church and what did you do as a career?
My wife Sumiko and I joined in 1962. We’ve been married for 55 years. She’s Japanese and I was in the Marine Corps. I met her over there when I was on active duty.
I’m a retired schoolteacher with L.A. city. I bounced around a bit. Last school I was at was Elysian Heights Elementary School. I retired in 1999. I have a B.S. in elementary education and a master’s in elementary education from Cal State L.A.
When you’re not at the church, what are you doing? What are your hobbies?
We don’t seem to have much free time. I really love my backyard garden. With my leg issues and all, I grow vegetables and I have some fruit trees. I really enjoy gardening. It’s my only hobby.
What have been your most challenging maintenance jobs at the church?
For a while the church only had one bathroom on the entire first floor. We put in three toilet stalls and wash basins in the late 2000s. We developed that whole room. I managed to get grant and that was very useful. We’re a small church and don’t have the money for that type of project. Now it’s a good size bathroom.
I’ve also done a lot of roof work. Echo Park United Methodist Church has a tile roof. It leaked and we had to use buckets. I’ve had work parties taking tile and putting it on. Tile roofs are hard. You can get a leak but don’t know where it’s going.
I’ve learned my carpentry skills over time, or I’d find someone. Sherman’s good on doors and he’s good on electrical stuff. He’s good at just about any kind of job … Phillips, our custodian, keeps us up to date on what needs doing. He’s very good and does a lot of extra work even if he does not get paid … I’d be remiss if I don’t mention Ladel Stapp. He’s good with woodwork. When we have our outdoor furniture setup along the sidewalk, he banged those together in no time flat.
What maintenance projects is the church preparing for 2015 and beyond?
We’ve got one big problem. The east side of the church is settling, and it’s opening up cracks in the foundation and the walls. We’re forever patching those things. It’s at a point where we need to do a lot of patching. The settling of the building is fine, but the east side though, has lots of cracks. We have to do something about it. It would help to have some fundraising
Is a call for action needed for volunteers to the church?
We could use any kind of handyman. There are always little things to do, like painting railings, plumbing, electrical.
Matt Sanderson is a journalist, photographer and digital media producer. A native of Rhode Island, he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire and moved to Los Angeles in 2012 with Patch.com/AOL