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Project has neighbors talking

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By Vince Luecke

A 2004 stopover at a German family's farm inspired an idea that now has my neighbors talking.

Three years ago, while doing my best to stay on Bavaria's small roads instead of the high-speed superhighways, I pulled my rental car into a gift shop near Lichtenfels in upper Bavaria.

A large half-timbered home there had been transformed into a small lodge and gift shop while the rest of the farm's buildings, including a dairy, small brewery and livestock barns had kept much of their traditional look and use.

It was a working farm with milk from brown Swiss cows turned into cheese and butter. There was locally brewed beer and meat that either came from the farm or a nearby slaughterhouse.

My lunch was memorable: three types of sausage, hot mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and fried apples. That came with a stout beer that was the same color as the pumpernickel bread.

After lunch, I toured the grounds. It was then I came across a small family chapel that had been part of farm life there for more than two centuries.

The outside was constructed of some sort of ledgestone and the cool interior was lined with dark wood that led to a peaked ceiling. The inside had the crucifixes, statues of saints and other fixtures found in most other German Catholic churches, especially in Bavaria.

The visit left me with the goal of constructing a similar chapel on the family farm back home. That effort, more than four years later, is finally taking shape this summer. I've tried to keep the project a bit under wraps because building a chapel isn't all that common of a practice and attempts to explain what I'm trying to accomplish sometimes create puzzled looks.

The family chapel I'm assembling will be a little place of solitude and prayer for my parents and family and maybe a place to assemble for special events, such as neighborhood gatherings and family reunions.

The site was excavated last fall but rain kept me from getting the foundation poured. Activity resumed this spring with foundation work and pouring of concrete walls.

The building is 30 feet by 40 feet in size but extends another 15 feet with a curved wall. The chapel won't blow away. It has 6-inch solid-concrete walls and was poured with insulated concrete forms some people are now using to build their homes.

Perry County contractors Mike Simon and Josh Harris, who were featured in a story last fall, helped with the blocks' assembly and the springtime pouring of concrete. That's when the local neighborhood began to take notice. Those who hadn't heard about the project already started driving the nearby county road when the trusses went up a few weeks later.  The chapel's walls are only 12 feet tall but the trusses nearly doubled the height and are quite steep.

Another contractor framed my roof but family members have done much of the other work since then.  That's making the chapel even more special.

My roof was fully shingled earlier this month and the concrete floor should be poured early this week. With luck the project will be substantially finished this fall and I'll share a few photos today on the galleries section of our Web site and more of the story in the newspaper's fall home-improvement section.

There is still plenty of work to do. Windows are ready for installation and a door is on order, but I still have wiring and lights to install, stucco to place on the exterior, stone veneer to install on the front and lots of interior finishing.

I'd hoped for a no-debt project but like most people building something substantial, things end up costing more than expected. I know I'll be making chapel payments for several years, but I'm proud of the project.

Being a builder - even though I've not done all the work - is inspiring, especially when you know what you're erecting will last well beyond you. I hope some day nieces and nephews will visit and remember what I've built, offer a prayer of remembrance and talk about me with their own children.

I suspect that's what happened over the many years in the  family chapel in Germany, a 200-year-old project that inspired mine thousands of miles away.