MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 11. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Well, it’s time for summer camp! For most it’s a rite of passage where lifelong friends are made and memories formed.
Today WORLD Radio’s Myrna Brown introduces us to a man who serves behind the scenes at a special camp, making sure those memories are sweet. It’s part of our occasional series: What Do People Do All Day?
MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: When you’re a city kid, the only poultry you expect to see is served on your plate.
AUDIO: What is that? Oh chicken!Chickens!
Every summer busloads of kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods make the hour drive from Atlanta to Temple, Georgia, to hear pigs snort, goats bleat, and Bible stories shared.
AUDIO: I touched it! I touched it!
LARRY TEEM: Good Morning, good morning. How are you? Thank you for getting here early.
Larry Teem owns the 58-acre farm he calls “God’s Farm.”
TEEM: “Myrna wants to interview you because you’re so young. I don’t remember that …”
And his friend, Vance Luke has his hands on nearly every square inch of the place.
LUKE: I got your list. First thing will be pick up trimmings …
Vance is the heartbeat of God’s Farm, the grounds and maintenance man. He and Larry met at a picnic.
TEEM: And grandmother said, “Oh, Vance is pretty handy. He just retired. He can help you with that door.” I said, “Grandmother, Vance doesn’t want to drive an hour.”
Vance lived 60 miles north of the farm. But quickly agreed to fix the door.
LUKE: I’ve been going every day, ever since.
That was 29 years ago. Vance still drives an hour to serve on God’s Farm and Larry is still making his to-do lists. Today, Vance will weed, trim, mow. If there’s time, he’ll give a little TLC to an old donated church pew.
TEEM: He don’t drive at night anymore, so he’s got a few limitations. You can’t get on the roof.
LUKE: The kids won’t let me on the ladder or roofing.
TEEM: His kids are all in their seventies.
LUKE: My kids are all retired, too.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Vance is no spring chicken. This year, he turns 100 years old.
TEEM: How many generations you’ve got?
LUKE: Five. I’ve got six grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and three great, great grandchildren.
A widower, Vance wears glasses, uses a hearing aid, and has all his teeth. He also knows his way around a golf cart.
TEEM: And then she’s going to follow you around a little bit and see what you do. Is that alright?
LUKE: Fine with me. What am I supposed to do today? Well, I got your list …
I quickly realize, if I’m going to get my interview, I’ve got to keep up! Vance suggests I hitch a ride on his cart, right next to the weed eater.
It’s bumpy over the gravel. But Vance has made this trek countless times before. Wearing a wide straw hat, a long-sleeve blue shirt, grey trousers, and tan work boots, he reaches the first stop on the list. It’s a 3-acre garden just bursting with rows of tomatoes, blackberries, and sweet potatoes. Larry’s already there, admiring the work of the special-needs adults who come once a week to tend the garden. He’s also got something special to show Vance.
TEEM: Wait a minute, I don’t think it stuck all the way. It’s called a jump-start because he’s having trouble pulling the…
LUKE: I can’t jerk it hard enough.
Those weeds don’t stand a chance now! On the way to our next stop, we pass one of the newest buildings on the property. A refreshing rush of cool air from the air conditioner meets us as we enter through the glass door.
AUDIO: What are you doing here today? We’re working on God’s Farm.
A group of college students serving as camp volunteers are taking a quick break from the summer sun. Vance leads me to a row of antique radios.
LUKE: The first one we had was a little square that had two points and four sets of earphones. (laughs) We sat in the middle of the table and there were two stations, WNAX in South Dakota and sometimes we picked up Minneapolis.
BROWN: Where we headed next?
LUKE: Going down to get the big mower.
He’ll need that to finish cutting the field of tall grass at the front of the farm. The riding lawn mower reminds him of his first experience with horsepower.
LUKE: I followed my dad. He had the nine-horse team in front of me. And I followed him with the three horses.
Vance was 7 years old when he started helping his dad plow the fields on their farm in Aberdeen, South Dakota. As a teenager in the 1930s he saw swarms of grasshoppers destroy nearly everything in their path.
LUKE: They sat on telephone poles, and they’d be two inches thick, and they just ate up everything.
With that kind of history under his belt, spending a day and a half on a lawnmower every week in the Georgia heat is no big deal.
LUKE: Got some rain.
Neither is a little rain. After about an hour on the lawn mower, Vance decides to spend his last hour before lunch in his tool shop.
LUKE: You want to flip it over this way. Let me push it towards you.
Underneath the shop’s tin roof sits a 15-foot, worn wooden pew. As Vance decides how he’ll salvage it, Sunday morning memories come flooding back.
LUKE: The Lord touched me when I was about six. I thought I was a Christian, but I really wasn’t until I got to Georgia. That’s where I found out where Jesus fit into the picture.
TEEM: So just cut this one off and start working on that? Can I leave it with you?
Larry knows the old pew is no match for Vance, a former mechanical engineer and World War II veteran. Still, both he and Vance recognize there are two sides to long life.
LUKE: Equilibrium is a problem. I gotta be real careful because I could fall easily.
TEEM: He had a little heart attack about a year and a half ago, ……and he broke his leg last year.
LUKE: I’m ready to go, anytime the Lord wants me. My prayer is that he keeps me healthy until he takes me home.
That will be a sad day on God’s Farm.
AUDIO: I need a volunteer to pray.
AUDIO: … make us have a good lunch, and thank you for letting us be on God’s Farm. In the name of the Lord, amen.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown, reporting from Temple, Georgia.