July 16 • 07:37 PM

Life at the top

Dad, sons team up to restore aging steeple at historic Imlay City church

‘Charlie’ Earhart is back in Imlay City, helping to restore the steeple at the historic First Congregational Church on Bancroft Street. photo by Tom Wearing.
June 18, 2008
IMLAY CITY — More than four decades have passed since Charles "Charlie" Earhart first scaled to the top of the steeple at the First Congregational Church on Bancroft Street.

At the age of 80, Earhart is back, overseeing a restoration of the 75-foot steeple at the venerable Imlay City landmark, which was constructed in 1873.

"We're re-roofing and re-painting it," said Earhart, who now leaves most of the gruntwork to his two sons, Charles, 58, and Michael, 54.

"It's not a complicated job," says Charlie, "but it's a little tricky. Especially if you haven't done it before."

When he started out in the business, jobs were abundant and the work wasn't limited to church steeples.

"We used to climb a lot of water towers and smoke stacks at dairies and factories," Charlie recalls. "We don't have any of those anymore."

Charlie admits that restoring church steeples isn't a job that appeals to everyone. Nor should it.

"I got into this when I was in my twenties," he says. "I needed a job and decided to do it as a living. It's hard to find people willing to do this anymore. A lot of people are afraid of heights and think they are going to fall."

He assures the uninitiated that safety is high on his list of priorities.

"Our guys are well secured," says Charlie, pointing upward toward Charles and Michael. "They're hooked into a cable up there. They're not going anywhere."

Although Charlie is semi-retired, he can usually be found on job sites contracted by Charles, who resides in Standish.

Last year, the First Congregational Church of Almont contracted with the Earharts for a major restoration to both the building and steeple.

Because of the magnitude of the project, that job took about three weeks to complete. The current project in Imlay City should take no more than a week-and-a-half.

While he still enjoys being at the job sites, Charlie says he is no longer preoccupied with the business.

"I don't bother looking for work so much any more," he says. "The jobs come to us. But I still get satisfaction from looking at a job when it's done, knowing that we did a good job. There aren't many people doing this anymore. There aren't many of us left."

For more information about the business, call 989-846-9207.

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