Ervin Belcher finds pleasure in building homes for others

Monday, March 5, 2012
Ervin Belcher inside a new home he is building in Morley, Mo. Friday, February 24, 2012. (Laura Simon)

While some people dread facing the day-to-day drudgery of their jobs, Ervin Belcher, a local builder and craftsman, can't wait to get started at his.

"I wake up every day and start planning what I'm going to do at work that day," says Belcher. "I love getting started on an idea and seeing it through until it's complete. I really love what I do."

It bears mentioning that this easygoing gentleman with such a positive attitude and a love for his craft is 77 years old.

Ervin Belcher inside a new home he is building in Morley, Mo. Friday, February 24, 2012. (Laura Simon)

Belcher began his career as a builder in the Aurora, Ill., area in the late 1960s. Many of the builders he worked with were immigrants from Poland, Sweden, Ireland and Scotland who had been in the United States less than a year. "Many of those guys spoke very broken English or almost no English at all," Belcher says. "But, they taught me so much. Most of my craft I learned from those immigrants from Europe, and I still use what they taught me today."

Belcher and his wife, Margaret (Peggy), relocated to Benton, Mo., 20 years ago. He tried retiring and worked for awhile refurbishing antiques. "I thought, this isn't for me," says Belcher, and he got back into the building business.

Four years ago, when Belcher was 73, he undertook the enormous project of custom building a home for his good friends Jerry and Joannie Smith, owners of River Ridge Winery in Commerce, Mo.

The house, which is about a half mile from the winery, is a one-of-a-kind home in which every building material possible, from the stone to the wood, came from Southeast Missouri. The house is crowned with a cupola, a room built above the roof line, that was also installed by Belcher. "That is a perfect place for quiet reading or to watch the various forms of wildlife such as eagles, deer and turkeys that inhabit the land that surrounds the house. The house is really in a perfect location if you are a nature lover," he says.

Belcher met Jerry and Joannie Smith in the early 1990s and they became good friends. Belcher began by helping them refurbish the 100-year-old farmhouse that now houses River Ridge Winery. He also built the dining room and the patio at the winery.

Ervin Belcher outside a new home he is building in Morley, Mo. Friday, February 24, 2012. (Laura Simon)

"Ervin started out as a customer at our winery and then became a good friend," Joannie Smith says. "When we started refurbishing the farmhouse, Ervin knew how to do all sorts of things that we didn't know how to do. He really helped us out tremendously. When we decided to build the house, we never considered any other option but hiring Ervin to do the work."

The home, which took about 13 months to build, was a lot of trial and error. "When we started the house, the lumber we used was still in tree form," says Belcher. "We cut the lumber right on site. It took about one and a half months to mill the lumber and build the trusses."

The home also features a 3,000-pound spiral staircase that Belcher installed -- without the use of a crane.

Obviously, he's remained in good shape well into his 70s. He says his secret to staying fit is eating right, exercising and trying to rest properly. "Once I'm up and going, I go as hard as I can for as long as I can," he says.

Belcher, who on average builds and sells about two to four homes a year, is getting ready to embark on another labor of love.

"I'm getting ready to build a house that I've been wanting to build for about 15 years," he says.

The home, which will be about 1,500 square feet, will be part log cabin with a Southwestern flair to it. The home will be for Belcher and his wife, and he is currently looking at building sites in the Benton area. "It's very important for us to live near our church family," Belcher says. He hopes to start the project in early to midsummer and complete the home in 13 to 14 months.

His two sons, Kevin and Jonathon, work with him in his business and he says that he's had other great help along the way.

"My friend Hersal Hubard was 75 years old when he started working for me, and he worked for me for 10 years," says Belcher. "He was a great builder and a big help to me."

In his spare time, Belcher enjoys traveling, church mission work and spending time with family, which in addition to his sons includes eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"I have been blessed with great health," Belcher says. "And, I can't wait to get up every day and go to work. I love building homes that people enjoy."

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