NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – LaVon Ediger, Bethel College’s 2016 Outstanding Alumnus, found a way to take his skills in construction and turn them into a means of serving some of society’s most vulnerable.
Ediger, of McPherson, grew up in rural Buhler, graduated from Buhler High School and studied industrial arts at Bethel. He graduated in 1962 with a B.S. in industrial arts and a minor in health, physical education and recreation.
While at Bethel, he was instrumental in establishing the radio station, KBCT, now KBCU-FM. Following graduation, he served two years of alternative service in Denver.
Ediger taught industrial arts and coached (all sports) at Brookville and then at Clay Center Community High School, where he developed the building trades education program, before moving to Topeka to work for Whelan Lumber Company, developing a statewide house package dealership program.
Ediger moved to McPherson in 1974, where he built the large and successful Stewart-Ediger Construction, which mostly specialized in commercial projects.
As an employer, Ediger had a heart for people with life challenges. He would often hire individuals who had difficulty finding or keeping a job with other companies, mentoring them and giving them extra attention when needed.
As the owner of a construction company, Ediger became increasingly troubled with the usual practice of throwing away perfectly good used building material as businesses would upgrade and modernize their buildings. He would sometimes bring castoffs to his church, First Mennonite in McPherson, to be reused, or would store them in his own shed for possible future use.
Ediger’s interest in music and singing led him to join the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus. While riding in a bus on a concert tour with the KMMC in the eastern United States, and following a visit to the Akron, Pennsylvania, headquarters of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Ediger had what he calls an “Aha!-God moment” – the idea of opening a thrift store to sell used building materials.
He shared this idea with Sunday school classes and others at First Mennonite, especially when the congregation discussed goals and visions, and kept the idea alive as he moved into retirement.
Shortly after retiring in 2007, Ediger began putting his skills, contacts and energy into creating and opening, along with others from First Mennonite, the ReUseIt Center in McPherson. The store’s purpose is to collect and sell used and donated building materials in order to keep them out of the landfill while supporting MCC and local nonprofits with the proceeds.
Another benefit of the ReUseIt Center has been to connect with the Omega Project, which has as its clients men recovering from addiction.
The men go through a period where they are newly sober but not yet ready to handle regular employment, and need ways to be involved in the community. Ediger’s gifts for working with those on the margins of society and/or with special needs have helped create a close connection between the two ministries, ReUseIt and Omega Project.
Ediger and his wife, Linda, are parents of three and grandparents of six. In addition to being active in his church and volunteer work, Ediger enjoys woodworking and continues to enjoy making music.
The Bethel College Alumni Association gives the Outstanding Alumnus Award on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college, or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.
Ediger will receive the award and be honored along with other alumni award winners at the annual Alumni Banquet, June 4 at noon in Memorial Hall.
Discount price for the banquet is $22.50 per person if paying by May 20, $25 regular price May 21-25. For reservations, contact Thresher Shop in Schultz Student Center, 316-284-5205. Payment or credit card information is required when the reservation is made. No refunds can be given after May 27, since after that the Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals.