My parents’ hospitality and generosity has had an impact on hundreds of college students.
“I’m sure glad no one reads my lease,” my dad joked when he sent me this photo recently.
It’s from the roof of the rental house my family owns (the lease specifically says tenants aren’t allowed on the roof) where more than 400 college students gathered for a barbecue on move-in day this past fall. Every year for the past eight years, upper classmen have helped other students move in and then invited them to walk a few blocks east of campus to 901 Bertrand to eat free food and meet new people. The city police are used to it now, and they know they’ll only find a plethora of sweet tea at the annual event.
My parents have always believed in providing a safe place for my brother and me and our friends. They’re incredibly hospitable and generous, which resulted in my house becoming the hangout spot for my friends in high school. Every Friday night after football games, we would gather for a fire pit and tons of food. Everyone knew and loved my parents, and we all had a blast—sans alcohol and other typical high school shenanigans.
As my brother, Curtis, approached college, my parents still longed to provide that safe, hospitable place for him. But since they weren’t moving to college with him, they bought a house in Manhattan, Kansas, near the Kansas State University campus with the intention of renting it out to Curtis and his friends and eventually to me.
My dad and Curtis are both construction guys, so naturally they wanted a fixer-upper, which is easy enough to come by in a college town. When they first walked through the house, it was trashed—complete with a Christmas tree made out of beer cans. Yet somehow, they decided to move ahead with it.
In 2008, Curtis spent a long, tiring summer renovating that house, and he probably gained more hands-on experience in those three months than most construction science majors get in four years. Turns out the 901, as it would become known, had foundation problems (among many other things). The basement flooded, and it happened to rain an exorbitant amount that summer. On June 8, an EF4 tornado hit Manhattan, causing $20 million worth of damage to the college campus, destroying nearly 70 homes, and damaging many more. My mom was in town helping Curtis that day, and my dad and I kept calling to make sure they were okay.
“I can’t worry about the tornado right now,” Mom said. “We’re bailing out the basement!”
While the tornado touched down outside, Mom and Curtis tried to manage the water gushing into the basement from behind the refrigerator. The basement had to be gutted entirely, and somehow the renovations were completed just in time for move-in day that August.
Curtis and his roommates were involved with a campus ministry called Christian Challenge, and they began hosting events such as the move-in barbecue, themed parties, weekly Bible studies, and Office watch parties. Soon, the house became the hangout place. The food and decor were considerably lesser quality than my mom’s house (there was a period of time when people referred to it as “The Stinky 901” due to some rotten potatoes that had been misplaced . . . ) but nonetheless, the spirit of hospitality, generosity, and safety continued.
When I moved into the house with five other girls, we carried on the same social traditions and added a few of our own. By this point, the 901 was a household name in our campus ministry. People still knew my parents, and I couldn’t have asked for better landlords. That house became a hub for connection, and a place of lots of laughter and rich friendships.
After my graduation in 2012, it was time for a new generation of 901 residents. Two groups of students approached my dad to vie for the space, and they both had such specific vision—one group even had a mission statement—for how they planned to use the house, the traditions they intended to keep, and the new ideas they wanted to implement.
I was blown away.
My parents offered their home to us in high school and provided a place for us to gather in college. My brother and his friends opened their house and their wallets to serve other students. My friends and I did the same. And now these students brought a whole new level of intentionality and hospitality that I had never considered. And already the 2016-2017 tenants are starting conversations with my dad. That school year will be the first round of tenants that I don’t know at all. The 901 has succeeded my brother, me, our roommates, and even our friends and acquaintances.
My parents could have saved their money and put it toward their mortgage or enjoyed a little house on the lake. Instead, they own a white rental house on a corner lot in a college town. It’s not that impressive to look at, and it will be a miracle if they ever make much money off of it, but the 901’s ROI can’t be quantified. I don’t think we’ll ever know the number of students who have been impacted by that house—who ate a meal, made a friend, experienced generosity, learned about God, laughed until they cried, and found a safe haven there.
That’s legacy. That’s the 901.