Originally published in the Oct. 5, 2012 issue of Taylor University’s newspaper, The Echo.
When First Lady Marylou Habecker arrived back in the U.S. last March from a trip to Korea, she felt a flood of emotions.
“I was just overwhelmed by coming back,” Marylou said.
Although she and President Habecker were already in their seventh year of living on campus at the time, Upland finally felt like home. With that also came the conviction that she could be more involved in improving the community.
“The Lord really put the verse on my heart, on my mind—go to Judea and Samaria and the outermost areas of the world,” Marylou said. “This is my home and I could be doing more.”
Not that Marylou isn’t already involved in volunteer work. Her schedule includes projects that have been on her plate for some time, include mentoring, hosting staff and faculty dinners, and leading Women’s Programming events like this week’s Coffee House Quarterly.
“Mostly [my volunteer work] has been Taylor-related, and that needed to change,” she said. “[I asked], ‘Have I been using where God placed us for such a time as this to help?’ And the answer was no.”
Five months ago, Marylou joined Our Town Upland, a group focused on renovating the town.
Specific plans for reviving Upland appeared in 2010 when the Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning spent a weekend sketching and meeting with focus groups in Upland. These groups included downtown merchants, churches, youth, senior citizens, Taylor leadership, government, financial institutions, and new residents. The goal was to discover what these groups liked about Upland, what concerns they had, and what they could imagine for the future.
The sketches, which Marylou keeps copies of, include ideas for making the town more walker and biker friendly, restoring and face-lifting downtown buildings, and creating more hangout areas. Student housing is another option.
Marylou noted, “The architects said, ‘When you put people in a town, you put life in a town.”
Other research has included visiting other small cities with universities and finding ideas from Indiana towns Berne and Farmland.
One plan already in motion is planting trees along Route 22 entering Upland from Gas City. The proposal is currently in the hands of the Upland Council.
Marylou noted several other ideas that have been mentioned during brainstorming, some of which are a water park and a community center with a movie theater, exercise classes, and childcare.
One idea she is fond of is a student art gallery. Local artists, students and Taylor professors could display work, and certain areas of the building would allow visitors to learn new art forms and techniques.
These renovations will be places Taylor parents can visit, raising the standard of what is present in Upland.
“[The appearance of the town] does not reflect the quality of life people find here,” she said. “People are generous, people are real, and it’s a place of safety.” In short, “They deserve more.”
One recent event in the community left an impression on Marylou: the Welcome Weekend Polar Pop run that saved the jobs of Upland Pit Stop employees.
“It’s a classic case of what would happen if students got involved.”
The challenge is finding students (and other members of the community) who want involvement in this process so change in Upland will happen.
“It’s not their town, it’s our town,” Marylou said of the divide between school and community. “Our town means we all have to help, not just one or two people.”
Although much of the work is still in the planning stage, she is happy to help start another wave of the process among students.
“Gene and I will put ourselves out on the line—we would love to start meeting with students and faculty,” she said. “Just contact us—[we can] set aside a night to do Upland dreaming.”