Eighteen years after Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) was founded
in Americus, Georgia in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller,
residents of the Marshfield area began the effort to establish a local Habitat presence.
Rev. Bob Jacobs, former pastor at First Presbyterian Church, and Dave Schindhelm,
the church’s business manager, held a meeting early in 1994 to discuss the possibility.
The flame flickered briefly, but didn’t begin to burn until later that year,
when Barb Mahler called friends together at the church to lay the foundation for a
Habitat program in Marshfield.
In August, 1994, Marshfield Area Habitat for Humanity came to life
as Barb and a dedicated group of early leaders laid groundwork for the nonprofit
organization and sought to become an official HFHI affiliate.
Initial board members struggled to raise funds, recruit volunteers, become a legal entity
and handle the paperwork to meet HFHI requirements for affiliation.
On January 1, 1996, our organization became the 24th affiliate of HFHI
in the state of Wisconsin, which now has 44 Habitat affiliates.
Affiliation allowed Marshfield, as an autonomous local, nonprofit organization
responsible for its own activities—including fund-raising—to work in
partnership worldwide with HFHI.
The standard Habitat method of operation was established.
Through volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materials, the
new affiliate would work with families in need, “partner families,” to build
or renovate simple, decent housing. The houses would then be sold to partner families
at no profit, with affordable, no-interest mortgages.
Board members annually sign an Affiliate Covenant pledging
to live up to certain Habitat standards.
Marshfield Area Habitat for Humanity’s first partner family was
Dave & Bev Williams and their three children.
Habitat volunteers worked alongside the family to build a home in Spencer,
dedicating it on December 15, 1996, in time for Christmas.
The following year, partner family Ben & Linda Beaudry and their two children
moved into their Habitat home in Marshfield on October 1, 1997.
In the meantime, Marshfield Habitat’s board of directors continued to
expand its vision, as well as the number of volunteers and donations.
Ken Neumann suggested applying for a Wisconsin Local Housing
Organization Grant (LHOG) to “expand capacity.” He wrote a successful
$22,000 grant application and, as a result, Marshfield Area Habitat for Humanity
was able to employ Sharon Schaefer ten hours a week as Coordinator
from April 1998 to March 2000. Meanwhile, HFHI provided support through
regional affiliate manager Jan Nigh, who entered the scene in 1998.
By the end of 1998, partner family James & Dawn Wolk and their three children
moved into a Habitat home built on Marshfield’s east side.
In 1999 the board instituted several administrative changes.
Board terms established in the by-laws were changed from two to three years,
to prevent the possibility that half the board could change in one year.
Partner family “sweat equity” hours were reduced from 500 per family
to 200 hours per adult with a maximum of 400 hours.
The board also decided not to accept donated homes that had to be moved to a new site,
having found that initial costs were often higher, and realizing homeowner
maintenance and heating costs were likely to be higher.
Throughout its history, the board passionately debated many policies.
Although Marshfield, like many Wisconsin affiliates, disagreed with national HFHI
home design guidelines specifying no garages or basements, it nonetheless eliminated
garages from its designs unless homeowner disabilities required it.
Basements, however, were sometimes included as a common-sense choice.
In 2004 it was decided to build Energy Star-rated homes,
to reduce future energy costs for Habitat families.
Homeowner amenities and land contract versus mortgage were also debated.
Throughout, the board attempted to honor the concept of “simple, decent housing”
and remain faithful stewards of donated funds.
Each year, the board votes on family selection, as well as both practical and policy issues
that come up in such areas as house design, sweat equity requirements and
New board members are welcome to join at anytime.
The Board meets on the 3rd Tuesday of each month except December.
The Executive Committee and Committee Chairpersons
are elected at the Annual meeting held each July.
Chronic challenges are finding families to meet Habitat criteria,
obtaining affordable land and keeping building costs low.
Local volunteers, individual donors, churches and businesses
have generously supported Marshfield Area Habitat for Humanity.
In the early years, Saint Joseph’s Hospital provided not only several years of
five-figure financial support, it also donated a house, and employees of the hospital
led by Mike Blackwood constructed another.
Large gifts from local family foundations, businesses and individuals have been
augmented by numerous small gifts from supporters passionate about helping others.
Grant income is also brought in. Whirlpool Corporation provides basic appliances
and Kohler provides plumbing fixtures to Habitat homes nationwide.
By the end of 1999 another home was completed in Marshfield and partner family
Charlie & Debbie Bennett and their two children had become homeowners.
In 2000, HFHI built its 100,000th house, while Marshfield Area Habitat for Humanity
celebrated by dedicating its fifth home
with partner Barb Zellner and her two children in Arpin.
To build Habitat houses in other countries, Habitat affiliates are
asked to set aside 10% of the funds they raise.
This money—designated as the tithe—joins all Habitat partners
together in a worldwide vision of eliminating poverty housing.
By providing $70,015 of tithe since 1996,
Marshfield Habitat has served an estimated 21.3 families overseas.
In 2001 and 2002, Russell & Barbara Peterson and their son Justin;
and Tom & Jenny Hilber purchased Habitat homes in Marshfield.
Sadly, as the 2002 project was nearing completion, Vice President Dick Strand
passed away. A memorial donation made in his name provided landscaping
for homes constructed during his board terms.
In 2002, the board discussed with Pittsville Mayor Dave Lyons the possibility
of extending the Marshfield Area Habitat’s boundaries to include Pittsville’s
school district. The city combined with Wood County to donate a lot and, in 2003,
a home for Emily Firth was dedicated in Pittsville. A local Pittsville committee
coordinated key aspects of the build, showing the board that the affiliate
could successfully build anywhere within its 17-mile radius service area.
In 2004 a land swap between Habitat and the City of Marshfield was made possible by
a generous private real estate donation. The resulting two lots on East 4th Street
became the location of the affiliate’s largest home yet:
a four-bedroom, two-bath for Dania Blume and her four children.
In 2005 the second lot became the location of a new home, built with partner
Robert Parise, which featured a unique set of disability accommodations.
The year 2005 marked not only the 10th anniversary of Marshfield Area Habitat
for Humanity, it brought the self-imposed challenge to build two homes.
Qualifying for HFHI’s capacity-building Open Door Challenge Grant,
our affiliate raised $20,000 in matching funds. A second home was dedicated
in November for the Ken Hahn family in Pittsville.
As of the end of 2022, Marshfield Area Habitat for Humanity
has built 19 homes and completed 9 rehabs
to serve 25 Partner Families in Arpin, Pittsville, Stratford and Spencer
as well as Marshfield.
While our parent organization celebrates over 1 million homes built,
residents of the Marshfield area can take pride in being a part of an effort that
has provided over a million people worldwide with safe, decent, affordable shelter.