By Chris Johnson
Director of communications
I love colorful characters. Even more so, I love colorful characters who make a difference. I’ve met plenty since I’ve joined The Fuller Center for Housing last year, and I’ve met plenty in a couple of decades in the newspaper business.
Jack Wolters of Tucson, Ariz., fits that definition of a colorful character who makes a real difference. He does so now, he did so in the past and, now 88, he’ll do it for decades to come.
While talking with Fuller Center Director of Development and Planned Giving Dianne Fuller and Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola about featuring people who’ve made financial commitments to make sure The Fuller Center’s fight against poverty housing continues, they both said I needed to talk to Jack. Problem is, I didn’t know much about the man. So he got Googled! Interesting guy.
Jack not only goes back to Fuller Center founder Millard Fuller’s early days in the affordable housing movement, but he and wife Lois were the driving forces, no pun intended, behind Habitat for Humanity’s Care-A-Vanners, once called Habitat Gypsies, who rolled place to place building houses after Jack retired from building skyscrapers in places like New York City.
So I called Jack this week and chatted about why he decided to include The Fuller Center for Housing in his planned giving. Though he said his heart is not doing well, he still has fire and humor. When he thought I might need a photo from him for a publication, he retorted: “You wanna put my picture in there? You’ll ruin the dang camera!”
Fortunately, we already had a few pictures of Jack, including the one accompanying this column from the very first Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure in 2008. As Ryan, who founded the Adventure, will tell you, there weren’t a lot of places for the cyclists to stay during their run through Arizona that year, so Jack’s stepping to the plate to put them up was crucial. Jack was also a veteran of the old fundraising and awareness walks the Fullers and supporters made decades ago, walks inspired Ryan to start the Adventure.
“Millard Fuller was a blessing to Jack Wolters, that’s for sure,” he told me. “He was a very, very dear friend, a wonderful person, no doubt about that. I feel very, very strongly about Millard Fuller, doing what he did with his life. I’ve been involved with him since a year after it started. Through all these years, I support him, I support Linda and the program that’s been a blessing in my life to be able to give back to folks who’ve never, ever dreamed of having a home. I’ve been so blessed to be able to do this.”
“Blessing” is a word that kept coming up, and it’s a teaching of Jesus that Millard preached relentlessly: that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Jack has believed and lived that … and continues to do so.
“It’s been a blessing to start the RV program and build up to over 2,000 RV vehicles,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to be on these walks from Americus, Ga., to Kansas City and from Portland, Maine, to Atlanta. I’ve been blessed to meet so many wonderful people. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful part of my life. Life has been a blessing for me since 1980. I’ve had the experience of going to wonderful places like Peru, Mexico, Canada, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Africa. It’s been a wonderful part of my life.”
“Jack has been a wonderful, lifelong friend who exemplifies the heart and soul of The Fuller Center,” said Dianne Fuller, who leads our Planned Giving program. “By providing a charitable gift annuity to The Fuller Center, Jack has ensured that his work for the past 30 years to eliminate poverty housing will continue for many years to come.”
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The Fuller Center for Housing now … and for many years to come.