Legacy Build veteran relishes this week on an “island of hope”
OPELIKA, Alabama — Long ago, Chuck Ingraham found that his drive and work ethic was not always appreciated by those around him — or by those above him who feared he was coming for their job.
Yet, the native New Englander could not change the values that had been instilled in him since his youth. So, he set out with his own business. While selling pots and pans door-to-door may not sound like a ticket to Easy Street, he excelled at it. And he did quite well, thank you.
“I ended up with a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood in the beautiful state of Georgia,” Ingraham said. “And I realized that I needed to give back.”
Whether it was serving as vice president of a men’s club, president of the HOA, holding advisory positions on boards, adopting roads, cleaning streets or countless other opportunities to give back, he dove into the world of volunteerism with the same go-getter attitude that filled kitchens with his pots and pans. The local Chamber of Commerce named him volunteer of the year.
Then his church began to team up with an affordable housing nonprofit called Habitat for Humanity. He went to learn more about it. The man talking about Habitat was the man who founded the nonprofit and started a movement. He had made a fortune as a young go-getter selling everything from tractor cushions to cookbooks before giving away that fortune to serve God’s people in need.
In that man, Ingraham saw much more than a kindred spirit who was a successful go-getter in the business world who had a nagging need to give back. He was so inspired by Fuller that he joined the local Habitat as a crew leader, then a board member and ultimately construction manager for the area affiliate, a position he held for 17 years.
“That was all because of one meeting with one man named Millard Fuller,” Ingraham recalled. “For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in the presence of an apostle of Christ. I started reading his books. I started thinking that of all the people, this is Jesus coming to me in the field and saying, ‘Follow me.’”
Fuller preached the Theology of the Hammer — something that makes sense when you hear about it, but something that must be seen to be fully understood.
“The first time that I saw the frame of a house go up in four hours — mainly with people who knew nothing about building —I was hooked,” Ingraham remembered. “At 50-something, I gave up my business and did Habitat for 17 years.”
After 17 years, however, he and the local Habitat group had disagreements and parted ways. At the same time, his wife lost her lucrative job. He contacted The Fuller Center for Housing and spoke with the former director of U.S. programs about starting a Fuller Center covenant partner. Ingraham inquired about potential compensation for leading a partner. He was advised that very few local boards of directors paid their directors, especially at the outset.
“I told him I had two mortgages and no income,” Ingraham said. “He told me that Millard had gone back to his Christian values and, ‘God will provide.’”
Ingraham nevertheless took a leap of faith and helped launch the Lanier Fuller Center for Housing. With his sharp and equally driven friend Annette Metz working alongside him, the organization hit the ground running. (Sadly, Metz passed away last year, shortly after fulfilling one of her final wishes by visiting Fuller Center friends at the 2022 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Lanett, Alabama.)
“We started it 10 years ago,” Ingraham said. “We paid off our house. We’re still living in the same place. Everything is good. I am still blessed.”
This week marks the second time the Millard Fuller Legacy Build has been held in Lee County, Alabama. Ingraham is a house co-captain this year as he was in 2019 when 11 homes were constructed during one week as part of the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project’s tornado recovery work. He co-captained the house build for Tiffany Robinson, who lost her parents in the March 2019 tornado that ravaged the Beauregard community.
Ingraham will never forget that build for many reasons, including the record-setting fall heat. Most notable, however, is that he nearly died shortly after returning from the build and underwent a life-saving triple-bypass surgery. The doctor who performed that surgery in Atlanta grew up in Beauregard, and Ingraham drove past that doctor’s boyhood home every day on the way to work at Tiffany Robinson’s house that week. Ingraham learned of that connection just before going under the knife.
“It was four years ago this month, maybe even this week, that I was out here in 100-degree weather building that house, and God said, ‘Boom! It’s time for you to straighten out,’” Ingraham said. “Basically I died, and he brought me back. He said, ‘I’m not done with you.’ So I’m still doing this — the passion of my life.”
Not only is Ingraham back in Lee County, Alabama, and back as a co-house captain at a Millard Fuller Legacy Build, but he has no plans to stop or even slow down. It’s not so much about the houses as it is the people, especially his fellow volunteers — many of whom he notes are not retired like him.
“This has to do a great deal to do with the people that you meet who come from all corners of life, all ages, and they’re taking their vacation week to give back,” he said. “They’re not out on their boats. They’re not playing golf. They’re over here working their rear ends off from the morning until the sun sets. And they’re all here out of the goodness of their hearts.
“I’ve told people this for two decades: You want to surround yourself with people you aspire to be like. … This is my refuge,” he added.
The No. 1 reason that he goes to spend a week at Millard Fuller Legacy Builds, though, is similar to the reason he still spends an hour each week going to mass at his church.
“I don’t go to hear the priest talk,” Ingraham said. “I go to hear the world of God. It’s my refuge for one hour a week. The rest of the time, I’m surrounded by Satan’s world. I come here and I get an entire week of being surrounded by apostles.”
“It is an island now,” he further explained of the Legacy Build. “It is an island of hope, of faith in a world that is running away from God as fast as they can. And here He is! We’re not just here to build a house; we’re here to spread the word of God — demonstrating His love through the hammer.”