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Easton steeple resurrected

By Staff | Aug 31, 2009

The Christian hymn ‘Lift High The Cross’ took on a very literal meaning on Saturday, Aug. 22 as the gold cross was placed back on top of the steeple of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Easton.

It was a windy and rainy morning as Darnell Hill of Inspired Heights, the firm doing the work on the church, climbed the final steps of the ladder that was strapped to the steeple to position himself for the task that lie ahead.

There was a big sigh of relief from the gathered onlookers as the hollow cross was placed over the wooden 6×6 atop the church steeple.

Placing the cross back on the church, which was constructed in 1915, marked the symbolic completion of the restoration of the church steeple and turrets. Some minor work still remained but the workers hoped to be done after three more days of work.

The work had begun in August 2008, and continued into the cold weather until Dec. 20. Work resumed in the middle of March 2009, with the crew resuming their six days a week work schedule.

While the 135-foot high steeple was not the tallest the company has restored, (that would be a 300-foot steeple in Chicago) it still presented a challenge as the men replicated the metal and the turrets, with all of their different angles and curves.

It was not only the outside metal covering that needed to be replaced. There were some floor joists that sit at the base of the steeple which needed replacing. There was concrete work which needed to be done and some wood that needed to be replaced. There was also tuck pointing and painting which was part of the restoration job.

While the actual restoration may have begun in August 2008, the planning for the project began some time ago.

“We have known for quite some time the steeple would need repair,” explained Deacon Gene Paul. “This gave us a chance to put some money away to help finance the project.”

The restoration of the church building – with the men hanging by ropes anchored to the steeple as they work – is only part of the story. Just as interesting and awe-inspiring is the restoration that has taken place in the lives of the men who work for Inspired Heights.

It was 16 years ago that Tony Stratton, the owner of Inspired Heights, left his father’s steeplejack business in Clarksville, Tenn., to start a business of his own. Stratton, a third-generation steeplejack, moved to Rockford, Ill., located west of Chicago.

Over the course of operating his business, his focus began to change and for the past six years his business has become more mission specific. That mission includes working almost exclusively on churches and employing workers who haven’t always led the cleanest life.

He doesn’t just employ anybody who needs a second chance. Many of his employees come to him through Victory Outreach, which is a transformational ministry with the mission to empower individuals to take control of their lives by placing their future in the hands of God. Among the requirements Stratton asks for before hiring an individual is that they have the personal recommendation of a pastor.

Stratton has been active in his community and has served as the director of addiction and prisoner ministry in his church. He has a threefold plan for his workers. He wants them to develop job skills whether it be welding or working with sheet metal, and the job discipline to go with those skills. He wants them to contribute to society.

“No matter what your job is, it’s not all about the money,” says Stratton.

Finally, he wants them to learn good life skills, to be a good husband and father, a man of God who uses common sense and lives a life centered around God. Their workdays start and end with Bible studies.

So how did this group of inspired workers end up in the tiny community of Easton?

“We were ready to start on the project and wanted to get more than one bid,” explains Dale Stevermer, a member of the church finance council. “I found Inspired Heights on the internet and made contact with them.”

Stratton made a trip to Easton to check out the job and Stevermer and other members of the finance council went to meet him in Illinois and had an opportunity to view his work. They came away impressed, not only with the craftsmanship, but also with the mission of Inspired Heights.

The bond formed between church members and the workers could be seen on this wet Saturday morning as the cross and the men prepared to make their trip to the top of the steeple. Handshakes, hugs, and words of thanks were passed between the appreciative parishioners and the workers.

“We feel very fortunate to have found Inspired Heights,” notes Deacon Paul. “We are completely happy with the work they’ve done and the men who did it.”