Recycling for good: How old bleachers are making a difference in students lives

By MeghanBartness

Last April, the Marian gyms got a makeover- new bleachers. While the student body surely noticed the new and colorful bleachers, many wonder what happened to the old ones. The lumber from the old bleachers is halfway through its journey that started here at Marian. Through the help of Midwest Mission, our old bleacher wood will be restored and sent to schools in third world countries so they can build desks.

Who is Midwest Mission? Midwest Mission began 22 years ago building student desks under the leadership of founder Jack Travelstead The growth of this program is impressive and vast, with hundreds of desks being sent around the world each year.

Marian East Gym during the assembly of the new bleachers in the spring of 2022. Photo by Aubrey Sumner ’25

The desks are made from recycled bleacher wood that is provided to Midwest Mission by churches and schools when they decide to dispose of them. Roger McClintock is one of the volunteer desk shop leaders and has been teaching volunteers to build the desks for 20 years. A retired math teacher, he said the desks help provide a better learning environment for students. The desks can seat 3-4 students and provide good experience for builders. McClintock said “You can generally seat three, sometimes four students at a desk. All depends on their size. Building the desks is a good experience”.

No matter your skill level, Midwest Missions can teach you how to build these desks. McClintock has seen many people come in who have never used a hammer or other tools and is able to instruct and encourage them through the process, which is well laid out from start to finish. He said, “No matter your skill level, we can teach you to build.”

The wood is cut and then sanded. Once a desk is fully assembled and approved for quality, it is disassembled and each piece is packaged into its own unit, shrink wrapped, and then shipped to partner nonprofits where they distribute and help the recipients put them back together.

Not only Marian has donated to this organization. Recently, Klemperer Catholic High School, Mr. Matt Winterboer’s own high school in Carroll, IA, and First United Methodist Church, also in Carroll, IA have donated.

Current Marian sophomores and Deacon Kevin Fuller help move the old wood bleachers out of the East Gym last spring. Photo by Aubrey Sumner ’25.

Winterboer, a teacher at Marian, learned about Midwest Mission’s desk project through his parents, Cloyd and Carol Winterboer. He reached out to them about the available bleacher wood. Carol is the Mission Committee Chair at Carroll First United Methodist Church. Winterboer knew they volunteered at Midwest Mission, and through a conversation that took place at his son’s basketball game, he learned they had a trip planned to serve at the organization.

Winterboer coordinated the efforts through his parents and with the help of Principal Mrs. Susie Sullivan and Assistant Principal Ms. Rochelle Rohlfs. Students worked with Midwest Mission to get the wood out of the gym and into a trailer headed to Illinois, where the wood would be turned into the desks. The full load arrived at Midwest Mission on Aug. 29, 2022, where they were met with a crew of volunteers ready to begin work building desks.

As of late September 2022, the wood from Marian’s bleachers have arrived in Illinois, along with the wood from Klemperer High School, to begin the process of turning it into desks. Once finished in Illinois, the desks will be disassembled and shipped to schools in need, wherever that may be, and reassembled in the school.

Midwest Missions thanks everyone who has helped arrange donations from schools and churches. They want to thank their volunteers and everyone involved in the desk making process. In the first six months of 2022, Midwest Missions has shipped 348 completed desks to schools in Haiti and Guatemala. That means Midwest Mission has made desks for almost 1,400 students in need.

If you know of a school or church getting rid of their wooden bleachers, you can contact Brad Walton at or call 217-358-6675 for further information and details on how you can help.

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