80-year-old maintains landmark courthouse

By Rachel Greco
Lansing State Journal

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — In 1991 Gaylord Edgerly was visiting the historic 1885 Eaton County Courthouse when he noticed a few things “that needed tending to.”
The retired electrician knew a thing or two about caring for old buildings. The Charlotte man’s Cochran Avenue home, a 1904 Victorian, was a project he had spent years restoring, both inside and out.

Edgerly didn’t hesitate when he saw the needs at the downtown landmark. Volunteering his time, he repaired a leaking roof where 25 buckets were being used to catch water. He cleaned out the building’s heating traps where years of debris had collected.

It’s been 22 years since that first glimpse of the facility’s needs — but Edgerly never walked away. Now 80, the local resident has become the courthouse’s volunteer caretaker — addressing most of the day-to-day maintenance demands of the property, the     Lansing State Journal reports (http://on.lsj.com/YwODge ).

Edgerly has rewired the 10,000-square-foot courthouse, kept up its heating system, installed sinks and toilets, painted inside and out and rebuilt the building’s stained-glass ceiling. Some of the work is completed with help from family and friends — but all of it happens by his lead.

Julie Kimmer is the office manager for Courthouse Square Association, the nonprofit that owns the 1885 courthouse, along with two other historic sites — the 1873 Sheriff’s Residence and the 1845 Eaton County Courthouse located at Bennett Park.

Kimmer said that before this year, the CSA had a budget of just $2,000 a year for maintenance of all three properties. It wasn’t enough, she added, but Edgerly has been credited with making up the vast difference between means and needs.

“Gaylord is the person who recognizes the serious demands of these old buildings and when things need to be done he makes them happen,” said Kimmer. “I can’t think of anything he hasn’t done.”

When he’s asked how many hours have been spent working on courthouse “projects” Edgerly chuckles and can’t really give an accurate count. Sitting in the building’s lower level on a Wednesday morning he’s humble about the work — but not about his appreciation for the building.

“Look at the Romans,” said Edgerly. “They’ve got building’s standing for 2,000 years. Here we’re lucky to have some last 400 years. In England, a brick falls out and you put it back. Here you tear it down.”

But Edgerly said he loves the craftsmanship of Charlotte’s downtown courthouse just as much as he’s enjoyed the challenge of its upkeep. “The way I look at a project, you start at one end and there’s a finishing point. You just have to get to it. If you stop you’ll never be done.”

Potterville resident John Hotchkiss has been helping with courthouse maintenance for 12 years, largely because he says he wanted to work with Edgerly.

Hotchkiss calls Edgerly’s years of work “phenomenal” and cites projects he’s finished, supplies he’s donated and hours he’s spent working — with the help of his children and grandchildren.

“It’s the only reason this building is around,” said Hotchkiss, of Edgerly’s dedication. “He’s done it all and I’ve learned a lot from him and enjoyed helping him out.”
Kimmer said Edgerly has made many friends over the years as result of his work. Earlier this month CSA officials held an 80th birthday celebration for him at the courthouse and 100 people came to wish him well. It’s a testament to how grateful the community is, she said, for his efforts.

“He’s just created something bigger than himself with this,” said Kimmer. “Thank God for him. Thank God we have someone like him.”

Edgerly said it’s been a worthwhile investment. “I haven’t made a lot of enemies, I guess,” he said. “I don’t do it for the notoriety. I just do it because I like to do it.”

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