By LOU WILIN
At 65, the former president of RCM Architects could simply coast for a few years before retiring.
And why not. Jerry Murray already has had a storied career designing St. Michael the Archangel Parish Church and K-8 school; Winebrenner Seminary; University of Findlay projects; Owens State Community College’s Findlay campus; Millstream Career Center, Donnell and Glenwood middle schools; and Marathon Center for the Performing Arts.
But instead of staying the course, Murray at year-end will become executive director of Msaada Architects, a nonprofit organization which does architectural work for missionary organizations. Two-thirds of his time will be spent in Findlay and one-third will be spent in developing countries.
Murray is no stranger to Msaada and helping missionary groups. Forty years ago, he was approached by a friend to become Msaada’s first employee, start an office in East Africa and do architectural drawings for missionary organizations. The request was for Murray to stay six months.
“I went and fell in love,” he said.
Six months turned into eight years in Africa. It was there that he met and married his wife, Sue. A Findlay native, she was a missionary in Kenya when they met. They remained in Africa for about a year after they were married.
“Africa was home — is home — too. Kenya became home. Findlay became home for me, but, I think my true heart has always really been in Africa,” he said. “And when I go to Haiti, it’s kind of the same thing. It looks similar.”
Life in those faraway places has more dignity, he said.
“Life is pretty basic in terms of life or death,” Murray said. “You don’t get caught up in a bunch of fluff of all the things that we seem to get caught up in, of social stigmas and social media and codependencies and all the things that unfortunately our society seems to have brought upon itself.”
“It’s truly a more basic lifestyle. I don’t have the clutter. I don’t have the noise of stuff going on all the time,” he said. “You’re looking at someone and you’re saying, ‘You’re either surviving or you’re not surviving.'”
People in developing countries have troubles beyond anything Americans could ever imagine.
An Msaada representative in Haiti one recent week was called to go somewhere, but she could not because there was a fuel shortage.
“We don’t understand that here. We don’t understand what it means to not have water come out the tap. We don’t know what it means not to have a sewer system,” he said. “We don’t know what it means to go to the grocery store and there not be anything in the grocery store.”
“So instead we take our energy and we complain about bike trails,” Murray said.
“Someone said, ‘In America I eat dessert all the time, but in the Third World, I’m eating steak,'” Murray said. “It’s more meaningful to you. And relationships seem to be deeper.”
As much as he liked Africa decades ago, he decided to return to the United States. Murray was married, ready to start a family and holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture. The developing world was no place to remain when he was still 30-something.
“I kind of felt like I was going to become a dinosaur because I was working in developing countries. If you remember the ’80s, computers came into being. All this stuff was happening very quickly,” Murray said. “I was worried. I had a missionary friend who said, ‘You get to a point where either you’re going to stay for the rest of your life here or you need to go home and develop that skill.'”
The Murrays returned to reside in the United States, and moved to Findlay in 1989. He joined the architecture firm of Jim Rooney and Dan Clinger, which today is RCM Architects.
The skills Murray has developed over 30 years and experience gained as owner of his own architectural firm in Findlay will help him advance Msaada’s mission, he said.
Murray recently visited an orphanage in Haiti, designed by Msaada. There he met a girl, perhaps 7 years old. Dachena had been abandoned in infancy by her parents, who were too poor to feed her.
Were it not for the orphanage, Dachena would have been on the streets and vulnerable to getting used in human trafficking.
“The lady who started this (orphanage), she’s not a builder. She doesn’t know how to build buildings. She doesn’t know how to put a place together. She doesn’t know how to negotiate with a contractor. She doesn’t know any of that,” Murray said. “So she comes to Msaada for help. We help her get the things done that she wants to do, get a good value for the money that the donors in America have given her.”
“From that, this little young girl (Dachena) has a home. When I walk in there, she’ll grab your hand,” he said, his voice softening. “And she’s proud of her school and she’s proud of her home, and she’s proud of her house. She’s proud of all that because she has a home.”
“Dachena has a home and she has a future,” Murray said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
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