|By Holly McCray
A sheriff’s auction on Oct. 10 landed a large building to expand the ministry of Cookson Hills Mission Center in eastern Oklahoma.
The purchase is an astonishing conclusion to a stalled capital campaign to replace the mission’s deteriorating main building. Fund-raising began five years ago.
Standing in the foreclosed restaurant as the auction began were missionary Meri Whitaker, Cookson Hills board member Mike Wiley, and attorney Lloyd Cole of Stilwell-First UMC.
A bank outbid the board and won the auction. "I think Meri was near tears," Rev. Wiley said. "I assumed we lost."
He explained the board "had set a funding limit. I felt God had another plan for us if we didn’t get it."
But then the bank representative approached Wiley after the gavel came down. The man offered the property to Cookson Hills for $340,000, the board’s high bid.
"It was all good feelings," Wiley said. "The banker understood we were an entity with a mission. Now [the building is] going to serve the community and really give Cookson Hills the footprint they need."
Rev. Whitaker expects to complete the transaction on Nov. 8. Sales of the restaurant contents, which includes a commercial smoker, will generate funds to refurbish the interior.
The building exceeds the size envisioned in the capital campaign. The property abuts the mission’s acreage on the south side. Already in place are an interior sprinkler system, ceiling fans, and central air system.
The relatively new restaurant closed about a year ago, but "it had never occurred to me to use that building," Whitaker said. Then a For Sale sign went up, and mission volunteers made a suggestion.
Cookson Hills’ funding drive was seeking to raise $600,000 but only reached the halfway point in late 2011, Whitaker said.
"Flatlining at just what we needed … I think this is all God’s idea," she said.
Volunteer teams are invited to contact Cookson Hills to help renovate. More than 150 United Methodist Women will be on site Nov. 9-11.
Whitaker hopes to have all the mission’s programming resettled by mid-March.
Susan Whitley, board chairperson, siad, "Make sure all the people understand how big a part they had," in acquiring the site. She mentioned that part of the Annual Conference Offering went to Cookson Hills two years in a row.