By Kevin Greer
Lakeside Communications Manager
Like all Lakesiders, Chip Richter was eagerly anticipating the Sesquicentennial Celebration. He wasn’t just looking forward all the great events offered throughout the season, it was “Mr. Chip’s” vision for a new chapter for his popular programs and new show coming to fruition.
Bradley Temple, Richter’s “second home” in Lakeside, underwent a major renovation thanks to the generosity of many people. The venue for God Squad and Children’s Church added lighting, cameras, signs, a sound system, decorations, seats and a large television to name a few. The centerpiece of the project is a new stage resembling a front porch like those seen on cottages and homes all around Lakeside. It’s a part of Richter’s dream becoming a reality starting this winter, when his new show, “Once Upon a Porch,” premieres Jan. 13 on Lakeside Online.
“It just moves me because there are drawings,” Richter said while pointing his plans taped on the wall near the back in Bradley Temple. “I drew those like 10 years ago and if you look at them, it’s all right here. This is remarkable for me to see it.”
A new era
Bradley Temple and its new look opened in time for Children’s Church over Memorial Day weekend. Richter has been the leader of God Squad since the mid-90s, but he admitted he had some butterflies as he walked through the door on the new stage for the first time.
“I was nervous, but I was also really trying to be in the moment,” Richter said. “It was great and felt exactly like what I imagined.”
Richter wasn’t the only one excited for the first performance of the season in the renovated venue. A full house greeted him as he stepped on the porch with many holding cellphones high in the air to record the moment.
“The first minute was surreal and amazing and we got it captured,” Richter said.
Richter noted there were very few issues or delays during reconstruction. However, one thing was missing when it opened, and Richter doubts anybody noticed. The carpet that looks like a front yard with a flagstone walkway that goes down the center aisle the was backordered. Lakesiders stepped up again and brought in big pieces of AstroTurf for the children to sit on. Lakeside Senior Director of Religious Life & Pastoral Care Charles Yoost helped Richter move past the disappointment of the project’s last piece not being ready on time.
“Charlie told me he has been part of many church dedications,” Richter said. “He told me everybody looks at the building, not the carpet. The place is so crowded nobody can see the floor anyway. I was able to just release that as much as possible and let it go. In the end, it arrived exactly when it was supposed to, and it came out perfect.”
Richter said the new look has gotten rave reviews all summer. He tells curious Lakesiders this was years in the making and done very carefully with the traditions in mind.
“I appreciate anybody’s concern for the legacy and the heritage of this space,” Richter said. “I can assure anybody that I’m only carrying it on, and we’re only enhancing and elevating it in a way that I think most folks feel good about. Some think we just refinished the seats rather than putting in new ones. I’m so glad they feel that way because we wanted these chairs to feel vintage.”
Minor growing pains
Behind the scenes, Richter said there was a lot to grow into, and he and his crew had to work through all the “bugs and kinks.” Richter and Jason Nather took classes to learn the new equipment and technology and they did some of it on the fly.
“You know how it is when you get a new phone or a new computer? We had that, times 10,” Richter said.
Tom Adams, who is Richter’s production assistant, was the mastermind behind the tree next to the stage made from paper and cardboard, though it looks like a real tree. After a couple weeks, one of the branches had to be wired back up because, as Richter said, “gravity took over” and the leaves drooped and got into the camera shot. They fixed the problem of dead spots with the wireless transmitters by installing equipment near the stage. In a clever move, they hid all of it behind a trellis, something Richter already planned to add to the set.
“I really do think that’s sort of going to be the life of this space,” Richter said. “I say ‘life’ because I think it’s a living, evolving thing.”
Mr. Chip’s crew
It’s not possible for anybody to put on God Squad or Children’s Church alone, and Richter has a great team of Lakesiders helping out. Adams has some other creative things he’s working on with Richter, including another tree. Adams’ wife, Sally, is a retired teacher who has been on the staff for many years and assists on the educational side.
Nather and his wife, Allison, have also been regulars for a several seasons. Jason is Richter’s “right hand man behind the scenes” and is the voice and creator of “Wesley the Cat.” Allison handles the administrative role and does all craft prep.
Elizabeth and Caroline Towne are part of the Sunday crew. Richter says they’re “super helpful” and Elizabeth is the creator of “Quackers the Duck.” Middle Grade Madness leaders John and Bonnie Wilkie often visit to assist however they can.
Richter also got help from three sailing interns over the summer on rainy days. The college students all attended God Squad as youths and still call Richter “Mr. Chip.” This gave Richter the idea to start an internship program through God Squad he hopes to start next summer. He’d like to have three interns from different backgrounds — education, video production and theater.
“We’re building that piece in,” Richter said. “I’m really excited because I feel like that’s a whole other mentoring thing. What an honor. I had them here when they were kids, they still like me, and they come back and we give them an opportunity.”
“Once Upon a Porch”
Richter and his family usually head home around Labor Day. However, Richter’s stay in Lakeside was extended through most of the fall and winter as he continued to work on “Once Upon a Porch.” He and the crew did a lot of filming all summer and they added more video over the last few weeks. They’re in the process of writing scripts, and his goal is to have six to eight episodes ready to go on Lakeside Online beginning Jan. 13.
God Squad was livestreamed on his website all summer, but he doesn’t want his new show to be the same. What will make “Once Upon a Porch” episodes different is some of the videos they’re creating and parts of the interactions with the puppets and some of the characters. He also has ideas for new puppets, including “Hank the Monster,” who has been a Styrofoam figure for years and one of the kids’ favorite characters. “Hank” appears when Richter sings his always popular “The Monster Under My Bed” during God Squad.
“I’m still not sure how they’re going to look when they all come together,” Richter said. “I don’t want them to be something completely different that people would go, ’What’s this?’ I can’t be something I’m not, so I’m going to do and be who I am and the things I have been doing here, because I think that’s what people would appreciate.”
Many to thank
The Bradley Temple upgrades wouldn’t be possible without contributions from numerous Lakesiders. Dee Grindley was recognized during the building’s dedication for her family’s commitment to the project.
“Dee Grindley has been here so many times this summer,” Richter said. “We’re getting this great blessing and it continues to just be remarkable. The Grindleys aren’t asking for recognition, but we can’t talk about any of this without mentioning them.”
Richter said others have chipped in many ways. He didn’t want to try to list them because he doesn’t want to leave anybody out and some want to remain anonymous. Things got added throughout the summer, like the bluebird light, street signs and bubble machine. He also said Lakeside Vice President of Advancement and Marketing Gretchen Colón was helpful with helping to navigate all the administrative duties.
While the construction is complete, Richter isn’t done adding props to the set. Richter performed a Christmas concert during the Christmas in Lakeside Weekend in Bradley Temple, so decorations were be added to the venue for the first time. With over 100 in attendance, it’s likely the Christmas show will be added to the schedule every year.
Richter not only appreciates all the donations from Lakesiders. He is also thankful for all the contractors who worked hard putting his dream together and getting it done in time for the season. He’s going to enjoy it until it’s time for somebody else to walk on the porch and be the next God Squad leader.
“I continue to feel like I need to just hold this all very loosely because this is me building something for someone else,” Richter said. “It’s for another generation to come in and fill this space and I hope we were doing it well. I hope this building and filling of the spaces is blessed and anointed as it’s supposed to. That’s what I’m looking to do as we move forward.”