Editor’s note: With an assist from readers, The Star’s editorial board selected five persons who have made a difference in 2015. Stories of the nominees are running this week on the Opinion page, and the 2015 Citizen of the Year will be profiled on Sunday.
As an architect in a one-person office, Lynn Gentry has her hands full designing houses, commercial projects and interiors; submitting documents; and keeping up with codes and best practices in her profession.
But for at least a decade, Gentry has made room for doing good for others.
Whenever Steve Thompson, vice president of construction for Heartland Habitat for Humanity, comes knocking, Gentry is ready to go to work.
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As happens all over, numerous volunteers step up to build Habitat houses for those in need. But in Wyandotte and Johnson counties, and elsewhere in Heartland’s region, many of those newly minted homeowners take up residence in bright, new, energy-efficient houses drawn up by Gentry of Olathe. As always, she forgoes any fee.
“I have been building for over 40 years,” Thompson told The Star, “and I have met architects and engineers that would do certain projects at a reduction, but I have never met anyone who does everything for absolutely nothing.”
That would be Gentry. She came to our attention in December when she won the American Institute of Architects/Kansas City’s annual award for community volunteer of the year. We’re adding to her laurels by including her in the editorial board’s list of Citizens of 2015 finalists.
Architects have a strong penchant for charitable work and community building. Many individuals and firms in Kansas City make it a mission to respond in the wake of natural disasters — in Greensburg, Kan., in Joplin, in New Orleans and elsewhere. They pitch in to meet the needs of non-profits and social service agencies. They understand how good design makes living better for everyone.
Gentry’s pro bono work is ongoing and more under the radar. She is humble, reserved and selfless and would have rather eschewed the recognition, pointing instead to all the volunteers who keep Habitat’s home-building mission alive. Like them, she has volunteered her own hands-on labor as well.
“I just volunteered one day on one of their sites,” Gentry said, “and discovered they needed professionally drawn plans. That’s how I started with Habitat.”
Nearly 12 years later, Gentry’s hand can be found in more than 75 homes. They are, of course, modest and relatively simple, but attractive and quite workable for the families who qualify to move in and make mortgage payments.
This week, she met with Thompson to turn over a set of drawings for a house to be built in 2016. He predicted there would be a need for some revisions. Their meeting took place at 17th and Haskell streets in northeast Kansas City, Kan., where two Habitat houses sit side by side. One is nearly finished, the other just mostly framed and open to the weather. Gentry was happy to see the progress.
In 1,400 square feet, this design puts two bedrooms and a bath in a basement level, though with natural light coming in and highly efficient insulation, one would hardly notice. The main floor includes bedroom, bathroom, a well-appointed kitchen and a wide living room in front.
The lots — two of perhaps 6,000 vacant home sites in KCK, Thompson said — include an alley, which gave Gentry the chance to tuck an attached garage around back, a design gesture she prefers.
“Lynn brings her architectural skills as well as her heart to develop or update building plans for Habitat’s homes,” the staff of AIA/KC wrote for her volunteer award. “She stays abreast of changes to Energy Star requirements and codes enforcements, which requires her to spend time working with engineers and the codes department. She ‘constantly quizzes’ the Habitat staff on how she could improve her plans to fit what the organization wants and what the homeowners need.”
Matching efficient and quality materials with a Habitat budget can be a challenge. A typical home, such as those being finished in an underdeveloped neighborhood like 17th and Haskell, might sell for $110,000 or $115,000, Thompson said. Those sales prices reflect a high level of volunteer and owner sweat equity. Still, more often than not the actual construction cost will be higher. Move the same house to Johnson County and the true market rate might reach $180,000, he said.
Gentry, a native of Olathe, earned degrees in math, English and architecture at the University of Kansas. She began working for other firms in the 1980s. By 2000, she hung her own shingle in a small office building near downtown Olathe, which she shares with her husband, Gerald Gentry, a psychologist. At one time she had five or six employees, but the recession hit the architectural profession rather hard, and she was forced to downsize.
Nowadays, she’s in the enviable position of picking and choosing projects she wants to handle. She turns 68 on Friday, and she expects to keep drawing projects as long as she can.
Her office wall shows off pictures of large suburban mansions, a Colorado ski chateau and a Platte County log cabin.
In the scheme of things, Gentry does not leap tall buildings — nor does she design them — but as an individual she has committed graciously to the simple art of giving back to the world around her.
Citizens of 2015
With an assist from readers, The Star’s editorial board selected five persons who have made a difference in 2015. Stories of the nominees are running this week on the Opinion page, and the 2015 Citizen of the Year will be profiled on Sunday.