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Frank Gray

Courtesy photo
Work to restore the Sower farmhouse in Rome City will begin this summer with the help of a $10,000 grant and three high school students from the Four-County Area Vocational Cooperative.

Students to restore Noble farmhouse

Up in Noble County stands an old farmhouse that the locals regard as historic.

It’s the Sower farmhouse, the centerpiece of a farm that’s part of a Farm to Fork Program, where people can visit and buy produce and other products directly from the source.

Exactly when the farmhouse was built isn’t clear, though it’s said to be more than 100 years old.

What is known is that it’s in rough shape. The windows are falling apart, the interior is rough and someone put aluminum siding on it at some point. It needs to be restored by someone who knows what he’s doing, who will maintain its historic integrity, but Noble County doesn’t have any organization that tackles projects like this.

So the Convention and Visitors Bureau teamed up with the Four-County Area Vocational Cooperative and landed a $10,000 grant from the Dekko Foundation and came up with a unique idea.

The plan is to take students from the vocational school, team them up with an instructor, and restore the old house, all under the guidance of John Bry, a local historic preservationist.

The notion is that the students will learn about architecture and learn how to properly restore a historic house.

Noble County doesn’t have a lot of resources people can turn to when they want to restore old buildings. The result is that people tackle historic buildings and end up making them worse or ruining them altogether, said Sheryl Prentice, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Training vocational students helps get restorations done and creates a qualified workforce.

“What you gain is students who get marketable skills,” Prentice said. “They can help property owners who have historic structures and aren’t sure what to do or where to go” for help in restoring them.

There’s even a plan to get prisoners at the Chain O’Lakes Correctional Facility into the act. Chain O’Lakes is a minimum security facility based inside the state park, and it has a large woodworking shop. The idea is that windows can be removed from the house and delivered to Chain O’Lakes, where the prisoners could rebuild them.

All in all, it sounds like a bargain. The students do the work, the teacher is paid for by the school, and the grant from the Dekko Foundation can pay for a lot of materials.

So far, three vocational school students are scheduled to tackle the project. Work will start in the summer.

Goshen College students enrolled in a sustainability course at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center in Noble County have donated $700 to support the Sower Farm. The money was leftover meal plan funds that the students did not use during their fall Sustainability Semester in Residence at Merry Lea.

Back on the road

On Tuesday, we wrote about Paul Larson, a former volunteer firefighter, now disabled, who relies on a motorized scooter for basic transportation, only to have it stolen after he parked it outside a New Haven shop.

Plenty of people called or sent us emails offering to help him pay for a new chair.

Surprisingly, just as many people called to say they had scooters or wheelchairs themselves that weren’t being used and offered them to him for free. The scooters had belonged to relatives who had gone into nursing homes or had died and were sitting around unused, and some were with local charities.

By Tuesday afternoon, Larson was back on the road with a replacement motorized chair.

Meanwhile, his insurance did cover part of his loss. Because he has gotten a replacement for free, though, he says he’ll donate the insurance payment to charity.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.