Susan & Frank
Susan: “We moved downtown 17 years ago, and did not have any expectations that we would end up doing what we’ve done. But, we’ve acquired 3 houses since.”
Frank: “Two of our kids went to Mercer. We wanted more diversity, and we saw the emerging life downtown.”
Susan: “This is the fourth house, but we’ve also got a garage apartment.”
Frank: “It’s our ministry.”
Susan: “It’s important to us to be hospitable. And to…to be able to make it easy for someone else to just rest when they come home. Because most of these people have had other things going on. They’ve been busy looking for a house, or they’ve been trying to adjust to a new job, or we have someone there now who needed a safer place to live – herself and her young child. And, so, it’s important to us just to let people have a space where they can collect themselves.”
Frank: “We all thought that our house would be the center of Christmas and Thanksgiving. And of course now my daughter has taken over that. So everything is at her house. So, our daughter lives next door. And our son is on Jackson.
Our experience has been we, we have to do at least 40% of the work…we tear things out. It’s easy to do that: We get a dumpster, and we do our best to gut everything. We salvage, we take the molding off gently, and we number it. We know exactly where it goes. Uh, we, uh…then, of course, Susan has done all of the painting – that’s anywhere from $12-13,000 in savings.
I try to mend and replace any missing wood pieces. I’m an amateur, uh, carpenter. Then, of course, we bring in Eric and his crew for the big stuff. This house was almost finished and caught fire.”
Susan: “A year ago, we lost everything. We were almost done.”
Frank: “We had to do this a second time because we lost everything. There was a light in the attic that was there because of a prior workshop. The man had a gun shop; he restored old guns. A fluorescent, neon light or whatever you call it…shorted out and set the roof on fire. We had no furniture, but we had done the downstairs. The floors were destroyed. This is 115-year-old heart of pine wood that was rebuilt from a factory. But we had it insured. Susan had to work a year to get them to pay up. But they paid up.
So, our house is actually as good or better than it was. But the molding was on the front porch, so it didn’t get burned. We had to re-sheetrock it and re-floor it, and we put a new roof on it. So that was devastating on it. But, we were working on a Saturday; we left to go to lunch. Somebody told us our house was on fire.
But we were determined to bring it back. These houses, by the way, have superb…Susan calls them “bones.” They have superb structure.”
Susan: “This one was built in 1899.”
Frank: “So, somewhere along the way, we decided that this was helpful to Macon. Our motivation has not primarily been economic. Although, let’s face it, you can’t do this if you – at our income level – and lose money. You can’t just do this. But, we really…our labor at least has been because we love Macon. And, quite honestly, it has helped the neighborhood a lot. We’ve been kind of an inspiration to a lot of other people. We’ve renovated five plus the garage apartment.”
Susan: “We committed to try to make them look as much like they did to start off with. Probably the most interesting thing that we have found is that when we took the walls out of the back of the house, we found that the exterior siding was inside the sheetrock walls and that there were doors and a window inside of the house that didn’t show. Well, we’ve kept them. We’re leaving that because we want people to see what that was like before.”
Frank: “My professional job, for the last twenty years I have been the executive director for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I’m like a bishop, except we don’t use that term. So, I deal with people all day. I deal with congregations. I deal with everything from good to bad to ugly. I deal with conflict, division. It’s just a changing world.
So when I come home at night, it is a real joy to work on something that, uh, can be made right. Can be fixed. People are wonderful, but they often cannot be fixed easily.
But when you take a piece of wood that’s been abused and you bring it back to life, that for me is, is just wonderful. It’s therapy.”
Susan: “For me, it’s probably a little more artistic. I’ve stripped 150 spindles that’ll go back on this front porch.”
Frank: “One at a time.”
Susan: “It’ll be beautiful. They’ve been neglected just like everything else in the house. And everything, except for this last time, I did it the first time before the fire, I didn’t do it the second time. I painted all the houses, two coats of primer and two coats of finished paint on 12-foot ceilings.”
Frank: “That’s four coats on every one.”
Susan: “Used a lot of ladders and scaffolding. I’m stripping some shutters right now that’ll go back on the front porch.
Frank: They’re all 10-feet tall.”
Susan: “And sometimes people will say, you know, ‘Why are you doing that? You can go to the store and buy spindles.’ You know, it’s taken a day per spindle, maybe to work on it. ‘Cause it’s slow. But I think, ‘You know, I want to keep what started here, especially if it’s a good enough quality.’
So for me, and I’m a librarian, I’m retired now. But I worked at Mercer for 24 years. And, I just, I like color. I enjoy picking out paint to use in the house. People almost always will comment because so many houses…I would say, people pick colors that don’t offend anybody, but they don’t really please anybody either. And so, I enjoy color.
And, I have an extremely high tolerance for very boring jobs, very tedious jobs. And, fortunately, I laughed about the spindles in particular. I can be just as tired as I can be about working on one, but when I pick up another one, it’s like starting over again. It’s just the way my mind works. And so, I can keep at it. It doesn’t bother me that it takes a long time.
Right now, I have stripped and stained and polyurethaned loads of wood in the house. After the fire, I spent several weeks taking out thousands of nails and screws out of wood that could be salvaged and used again here.
And working with Eric is just a great joy to me. He’s good about letting us do our work, and he tells us we make his work look good. And we tell him we couldn’t do it without him. And so watching somebody else who knows how to work on old houses, making decisions with him, to me has just been a whole lot of fun. Very meaningful.
It’s something we find that we can do together. We don’t usually do something side-by-side. We do..more often, we do something in the vicinity of each other. And a lot of people say, ‘Oh, our marriage would never survive this.’ And, we say, ‘Well, ours does.’
Frank: We’ve been married for 44 years and never had an argument.”
Susan: “So, if it takes forever, we’re both on the same page. It’s just going to take a while. And we like the finished product.
Anna’s neighbor, here next door, was about to have to go under foreclosure. And he asked if we would consider buying the house for enough money to get out from under his loan. And then we could do whatever we wanted to.”
Frank: “He was a single guy. He lost his job during the downturn.”
Susan: “So, we said, ‘OK. We can do that.’
We have used the Historic Macon tax credits on every house except for the house on Johnson because we didn’t realize that we could on that one.”
Frank: “If we were to sell any house, we would want to sell it to people who actually want to make it a home. Although, you have to acknowledge that this neighborhood will not come back unless you allow renters. And, we’re not against renters, but we want people who rent from us to rent it as if it is a home and not just an apartment.
What would you say?”
Susan: “I think the stories of the people we’ve met, the people who’ve lived in the houses. For me, it’s sort of enough to have done the best I’ve done with what I have. I want it to live on, but I’m not tied up with controlling what happens to it. I get a lot of satisfaction just knowing that, uh, people will enjoy it at least as long as we’re around here and that it’ll be worth passing on to somebody else.”
Frank: “There is an aside benefit, that I don’t think we understood that’s really been helpful, at least to me, and that is the amount of physical exercise. I turn 70 next year, and most of my peers, quite honestly, cannot do what I do. And part of that is we, we stay in shape. And, it is certainly a better use of our time.”
Susan: “Although, my granddaughters asked me last night if I would please try to come home earlier because they wanted to see me longer than they did the night before. And, you know, we’re working on a deadline with the tax credits. Having a fire was not an extenuating circumstance, so we’ve got the same deadline we had two years ago. So, we’ve been really pressing. And I have my mom to watch out for.”
Frank: “She’s 92.”
Susan: “And, if I’m not doing something with her, this is my job, this is what I do right now.”
Frank: “And, I’m gonna retire in December. So, I use my evenings and weekends as best as I can.”
Susan: “Our granddaughters have watched us work. And they know that we work hard. They’ve learned how to do some things. They understand why certain things are the way they are. I like it that they know that their grandparents stay busy, even if sometimes they’d like to see us more. They do know that we think this is important and that we make choices that are artistic and pleasing to the eye.”
Frank: “One of ‘em loves to sweep and clean up. And the other one loves to polyurethane with Susan. So, they are helpful. And last night the younger one was a gopher for me. So, every 15 minutes I need a new sanding disc. So she was forever going to get me a new sanding disc to put on my sander. That’s very helpful, by the way.
Susan and I, we have a similar eye for what is right. We don’t cut corners.
She grew up on a college campus. My father was a sharecropper and couldn’t read or write. Her father had a Ph.D. from Duke. So I grew up in a kind of survival world, and we had to make do with what we had. So I kind of, I had some of these skills.
But she was…you know, has enacted a mission. She’s one of the more knowledgeable people in her…I mean, none of her friends can do what she can does. So, I would say we’ve grown together.”
Susan: “I know I’ve learned a lot.”
Frank: “She does not like to stand around.”
Susan: “I’m not a very good gopher. I need to have my own project.”
Frank: “She gets on that scaffolding now, and she shuffles it along. So she doesn’t really need anybody to push her.
I could see us maybe doing another bungalow.”
Susan: “We wouldn’t say ‘no’ to another project. I don’t know anybody else who does what we do. So, I like it that through a hands-on kind of couple working on trying to improve a neighborhood…I wish I could meet some more people who are interested in that kind of thing. But we’ve also been, through our lives, frugal. So we’ve done all this without loans. If we don’t have the money, we don’t spend it. And if we do, we’re careful about how we do it.
But, I’d love to find somebody else who was interested in this kind of thing. And, most people say, ‘Oh, well I could never do that.’ And, that’s true, unless you start and figure it out.”
Frank: “And quite honestly it’s one component of our retirement, because we do get income from these houses. It’s part of our kind of diversification.”
Susan: “And it wasn’t something we set out to do. It just sorta happened.”
Frank: “It keeps me from having to do what a lot of ministers do, which is to take a job after they retire. In some ways, it will be what I do in retirement. We also try to think of it as a hobby, as opposed to the drudgery of some ‘must-do’ thing. This continues to be a hobby. Other people like golf, we like this.”
Susan: “And most people don’t really think they could get pleasure from this. But, it’s good enough for us.
I kind of laugh at myself because I am pretty good at painting straight lines. Sometimes I paint a good straight line…”
Frank: “Oh, she’s a fabulous painter.”
Susan: “And I step back and say, ‘I did a really good job on that.’ And, I don’t need anybody else to look at it. I don’t need anybody else to say anything. I just get the satisfaction of knowing that I did something that…you know, was good.”
Frank: “What I love is when another professional painter comes into the room, and I watch them look at my wife’s work and oftentimes comment, ‘This is beautiful.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I know that.’ And quite honestly the same thing, with my woodworking…It is very rewarding.
I went to the Washington public library, and I’m talking to the curator. His name was ‘Frank.’ He died a year or so ago. He turned to me and said, ‘What house on, uh, Coleman Avenue are you talking about?’ And I told him, ‘Well, 1691.’ And he said, ‘Well my sister-in-law lived there.’
And about two or three months later, there was a knock on our door. And this litte 83-year-old lady, she came in, and just started talking about each room. The pocket doors had never worked for her mother; her mother hated the pocket doors. And I found out why because when I took the plaster off, I found out that the workers had failed to put in bolts on either end and the pocket doors. And the pocket-door track had bent. So, I showed her…for the first time in her life she was able to see those work, and they are gorgeous!
Susan grew up in Rome, Georgia, but she was actually born in the old Macon hospital. Her father was pastor as First Baptist Church in Reynolds, Georgia. And, I grew up in Washington, Georgia. I came here in 1967 as a Mercer student.
We were told not to come in this neighborhood. And we moved back to Macon in ‘89 because of my job, and we’ve been here ever since. Course, we love it and don’t have any intentions of leaving.”