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The community had a chance recently to tour the 30th student-built home in the Culver area, an architecturally unique house which familiar Culver resident and retired Plymouth school teacher John Benedict now calls home.
The house, at 15726 18B Road, off Lake Maxinkuckee's east shore, occupies land which was once the family farm of Benedict's grandparents, a place with deep-seated memories for John, the descendent of early farmers in the area. Benedict says he chose to incorporate the legacy of that farm not only in the design of the barn-style house built as part of the 2010-2011 Culver Community High School Building Trades program, but physically in some of its features. He notes fixtures such as porcelain doorknobs and light fixtures were original to his grandparents' home. So, too, is rustic-looking, weathered wood adorning one wall of the house. He saved that wood, says Benedict, for some 30 years in hopes of using it in just such a project (he plans to use more in the future as wainscoting in the basement).
Twenty-two high school students from Culver, Knox, and North Judson worked under the tutelage of Kyle Elliott, Building Trades instructor at the school for the past 18 years. Area residents wishing to have a home built through the program may sign up on a list, and will receive that all-important call from Elliott on a first-come, first-served basis.
Four of the students, says Elliott, are second-year students in the program, though last year's home, built for the Espozito family in the town of Culver proper, was contrasted with the unusual style of the Benedict house, a one-story ranch style with three bedrooms, a walkout basement, and a two-car garage.
"When I first met with (John Benedict), he said, 'I want a house that looks like a barn.' He had a very good idea of what he wanted built. Together, we created some other opportunities to utilize some of the things in his family heritage."
A cupola adorns the roof of the house, adding to the "barn-like" look of the structure, and in addition to the old barn siding inside that cupola, Benedict and Elliott incorporated a vintage oil can and water bucket from the old farm into the decor.
Benedict explains his father retired in 1976 and then added a mobile home to the family homestead, where he lived with his wife until his death in 1978. Benedict's mother, Opal, continued to live there until she passed away a few years ago. John knew he one day wanted to build a house at the site, which has been in his family well over 100 years.
"I had been living on the property," he says. "I started clipping articles and getting ideas and then I got on the Building Trades list, and some people in front of me (on the list) dropped out and Kyle said, 'Are you ready?'"
One striking aspect of the inside of the home is the spacious view of a pond Benedict had dug recently -- the same pond where several complete or partial skeletons of mastodons and other early creatures were unearthed in a 2008 dig.
"From the work area in the kitchen, you look out over the pond rather than facing the walls," notes Benedict. "On any given night, you see geese, turkeys, and deer walking around.
"They did a remarkable job," he says of the Building Trades students and their instructor. "Kyle's just super. Culver's very lucky to have him."
Elliott, who notes original Building Trades instructor Bob Trigg, who launched the program in 1979, is still on the advisory board, said the program is a "neat opportunity for students to be involved in.
"We're very blessed. The administration has been so supportive over the years for these types of vocational programs. The kids can pursue a career that would not be available to them otherwise."
Elliott also said graduating senior Levi Bennett, a second year Building Trades student from Culver, was chosen as the top student by the Building Trades program.
"He has a bright future in construction," added Elliott. "He's a nice young man. He works extremely hard."
Other students in this year's program included Greg Allen, Robbie Boyd, Luke Dunfee, Joe Dunklau, Jeff Emery, Jacob Fier, Kyle Garland, Steve Graman, Alex Gray, Seth Hoover, Johnny Hopkins, Jeff Kirkland, Seth Lockridge, Correy Lueth, Matt McGowen, Matt Norem, Kenny Potts, Dylan Ricks, Andy Slates, Mitchell Thomas, Zach Tomerlin, and Tyler VanVolkenburg.