For the past 39 years, three Newton men — Joe Hinz, Bob Graber and Jerry Friesen — have worked together to paint houses. Now, the partnership that lasted through nearly four decades is dissolving.
Hinz, Graber and Friesen all taught at the middle school level in Newton and each turned to house painting to earn extra money in the summertime.
In 1979, Friesen and Graber decided to paint together. Then one week, with Graber busy teaching a basketball camp, Friesen got stuck on a job alone.
"I was painting the Bethel College church's windows and I needed help with a ladder," Friesen recalled.
Noticing Hinz painting the house next door, Friesen asked for his assistance and from then on, the trio never lacked for work.
"Most people hate to paint, that's why we're always busy," Friesen said. "We're kind of weird. For us, it's therapy."
"We always said we looked forward to summertime because the brush would do what you told it to do — children don't always," Hinz said. "But then, come fall, I was so ready to get back in the classroom."
The men estimate that they painted around 1,000 houses over their 39 years together, several of which were repeat customers.
"Some were small; they took less than a week to do. Some of them were big and took a month," Hinz said.
The painters' work was not restricted to Newton — word-of-mouth advertising took them to homes in other areas, as well.
"We've done a couple in Wichita, Moundridge, lots in Goessel and some in Hesston," Hinz said.
One summer was taken up with painting the four houses along the south side of the 300 block of First Street in Newton.
"We always took the three-story or two-and-a-half-story houses, not that we wanted to, but some of them were fun because they were Victorian," Friesen said.
Even if a house required multiple colors and hours of detail work, the three were up to the challenge, setting up multiple ladders along the side of a house to reach every board.
"We'd just go from ladder to ladder," Graber said.
Even on their 40-foot ladder — which they called "Brutus" — injuries were rare.
"You're not as scared to be on a ladder as you are concerned. If you're not, you shouldn't be on a ladder," Friesen said.
"There were times, too, where you had accidents and you had to scramble to make sure the shingles were clean or the grass was clean," Graber said. "That happened a few times in the 39 years."
One of their more challenging painting projects was the Alexanderwohl church near Goessel.
"It was so windy, we had to tie our ladders to the pillars just so they wouldn't fall off," Friesen said.
Fortunately, the church's bell tower could be reached through a trap door in the attic.
"The bell tower, you can see Newton from that and it's like 12, 15 miles away," Friesen said.
Heights were no problem for Graber.
"He's the brave one," Hinz said. "...We did a barn one time — a huge barn — and the peak was out away from the barn. He got up on the roof and shimmied out to paint it and hung over the edge."
Whether painting barns, churches or historic homes like the Wirkler-Krehbiel house in North Newton or the Warkentin house in Newton, each day brought spirited conversations.
"We argue all the time and that's our therapy. We always get along, but we always argue about everything — it could be politics, religion, whatever," Friesen said. "If we don't like the argument, we usually just go to the other side of the house."
Pranks abounded as well, as Graber and Hinz often teamed up to pull fast ones over on Friesen, who would get hit with golf balls they threw from the other side of a house, find air fresheners doused with rancid perfume in his truck or wonder why a garage door motor was engaging whenever he touched his brush to the exterior wall — not realizing it was his own coworkers who were watching him and pushing the button each time.
The trio remember the times they've been fed on the job and invited to children's tea parties. There are also memories of being shocked by electricity, finding snakes and enduring 100-degree days.
"(Paint) would dry on the brush faster than you could get it to the house," Friesen said.
After retiring from teaching, the men continued to paint houses, appreciating that they could set their own schedules.
Through the years, the trio's children and grandchildren have worked alongside them.
"Sometimes we have as many as three or four grandkids out here and they're a great help," Friesen said. "You teach them well and they listen well."
Graber is moving out of state, bringing the 39-year partnership to an end, but Hinz and Friesen noted they have several more houses lined up to paint before they hang up their brushes for good.
"It seems strange that it's been 39 years," Hinz said. "It's gone fast."
The men said what impressed them most over the years was the trustworthiness of their customers, some of whom became friends they still keep in touch with today.
"We've met some very good people along the way," Hinz said.