By Yvonne Paris Rhodes
“When you retire from your regular 40-hour-a- week job, you can’t just sit around and do nothing,” says Marjorie Lee, a cheerful, gracious woman who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Marjorie shares this advice as she recalls happy memories of years spent in “retirement” with her late husband Frank Lee.
“Frank was doing that to begin with…and wearing out the carpet between the recliner and fridge. You’ve got to do something,” Marjorie says. “When you give to the Lord, you get back more than you give. You get the blessing, too.”
Their desire to stay active long into their golden years inspired Marjorie and Frank to take the path less traveled and join the Texas Baptist Men (TBM), serving in volunteer projects across the country. Frank and Marjorie joined their first TBM work crew in January of 1990.
“We were helping churches get new buildings nor additions, and other construction jobs. Doing that work helped us ‘old people’ too, because if we had to sit in our easy chairs and twiddle our thumbs the rest of our lives, it wouldn’t have helped and it wouldn’t have been as much fun. We got the benefit as much as the churches did. It was a two-way street,” says Marjorie.
For seven years, Frank and Marjorie joined every project they could with the Texas Baptist Men.
“Frank just loved it! We both loved it. I was still working as a nurse at the time, so he would go to job sites close to home so I could join him on the weekend. It was like a family reunion every month, and we all loved the experience and felt so blessed. The group came from all over the state, between 100 and 200 people. They ran three jobs each month and you’d choose which you wanted to do. About 30 people worked each job, and you never knew which people you’d run into,” Marjorie recalls.
In October of 1997, Frank and Marjorie and dozens of other volunteers drove a caravan of RVs into an open field in a small, east Texas town called Tyler. With the help of these selfless volunteers, lots of hard work, and of course divine intervention, this empty field would soon transform into Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), a residential community where adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive loving care and support that helps them develop physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
“When we arrived in our campers and RVs, it was nothing but a huge empty pasture. There wasn’t a tree, bush or building,” says Marjorie.
“We were making our own road and set up our RVs all in a row. We had water and electricity. Then shortly after we arrived, they put up a huge circus tent with picnic tables where we ate our meals, worshipped on Sunday and had fellowship through the week.”
Frank and his crew were assigned Cottage #1 – the very first structure at the Village. While Frank worked hard on his cottage, Marjorie and the other women served meals and ran the first-aid tent.
“Frank was up in the rafters, helping set trusses and climbing on scaffolding, doing the tape and float on the drywall – loving every minute of it. We had a ball doing those things. By the time we left that job, the cottages were put together enough so we could see how it was going to be setup. The whole group was excited about it.”
Over the next several weeks, the crew erected six cottages, which now house adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While Frank worked diligently, neither Frank nor Marjorie knew his health was rapidly deteriorating.
Sadly, Frank Lee passed away from cancer a few days after Christmas, with Marjorie and their three daughters by his side.
The very first cottage at Breckenridge Village had been Frank’s final project, after seven years of faithful service and countless lives touched working alongside his loving wife and the Texas Baptist Men.
For the years that followed, Marjorie felt drawn back to Breckenridge Village of Tyler and recognized it was a special place not only for her family, but for adults with disabilities and their families.
“We sensed right from the beginning what a marvelous concept BVT was,” says Marjorie. “And being in nursing myself, I knew there was nothing like this out there and I sometimes pondered, what do families do when they are getting too old and the caretakers won’t be around a long time?”
On a blustery spring day in 2015, Marjorie, her three daughters and other family members all gathered at Breckenridge Village for an interment ceremony honoring Mr. Frank Lee. A tree was planted in Frank’s honor and a plaque lovingly placed where Frank’s ashes were interred.
“I always wanted Frank to go to the Village and be interred there,” Marjorie says. “When BVT said they’d be pleased to do that, it just thrilled me. I’ve put this off for almost 18 years since he died.”
Today, Marjorie is still busy at work for the Lord. Occasionally she goes on short-term mission trips to use her nursing skills, but there are plenty of volunteer opportunities close to home in Colorado Springs. She created several libraries in churches across Texas and Colorado, including the church she now attends. She established a library in a facility for people with physical handicaps in central Texas, and she helps manage the library in the local county jail. Some of the groups she serves have affectionately dubbed her “the book lady.”
The Lee Family’s Legacy of Service:
Ever since Cottage #1 was erected by Frank and his crew in 1997, many adults with disabilities have called it home. Since then, BVT has expanded into a thriving, 70-acre campus complete with six homes, a chapel, a greenhouse, a vocational center, a pool, a health center, fishing pond, an activities pavilion, and a prayer garden.
BVT is a part of the global system of BCFS health and human service non-profit organizations
About Texas Baptist Men: The mission of Texas Baptist Men is to assist Texas Baptist Churches as they lead men into a “Love” relationship with Jesus Christ that will thrust them and their families into a lifestyle of missions and ministry that fulfills the Great Commission. Texas Baptist Men is a 501-c3 non-profit organization.