George Rennels’ passion for building was born on Christmas Day 1965. He’s built everything from battleships, airplanes and space shuttles, to the Lawrence High School music wing, then dismantled most of them. His latest building, the historic St. Luke’s AME church in East Lawrence, remains intact. Like his other creations, it’s built perfectly to scale with Lego.
“Lego ads came out on TV when I was 7,” Rennels recalls.
“I was fascinated and got myself all excited about what it’d be like to own one. I pestered my parents about getting a set.”
When he saw his Lego box that Christmas morning, he was hooked.
“I built anything and everything,” he says.
“Any time I got an allowance or earned some extra money I went to Mrs. Mallott’s hardware store (downtown Lawrence) to get more pieces. I got Legos almost every Christmas and birthday after that. My parents were thrilled because it kept me occupied at home for hours and out of mischief in my childhood and teenage years.”
He says his parents didn’t need to nag him about putting pieces away.
“I valued every piece and sorted and stored them carefully,” he says.
He practices the same habits today.
While appreciating his passion for Lego, his parents also instilled a good work and community service ethic in him. In summers he helped them with their hay-hauling business, became a janitor at Trinity Lutheran Church when he was 12, and volunteered at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
“You could work at that age back then,” Rennels explains. “I put all my earnings in my bank deposit book and used them for more Lego pieces.”
While a senior at Lawrence High School, Rennels saw plans for the school’s proposed new music wing.
“Our band teacher, Mr. Bartlett, was shocked when I told him the plans wouldn’t work because they had all those rooms and offices upstairs and people in wheelchairs couldn’t use them,” he recalls.
“I told him I’d build it right.”
Rennels borrowed the plans and built a three-dimensional, wheelchair-accessible model of the school’s present music wing.
“I view a building like an artist,” he says.
“I look, see and visualize. I know by looking what’ll work and what won’t work.”
He graduated in 1976, obtained a nursing assistant certification, and he’s worked at Lawrence Memorial Hospital ever since. He’s now unit secretary for surgical services, and his building passion continues.
When restoration plans for St. Luke’s were displayed, Rennels set about building a magnificent Lego model of the restored church.
“I started with the 125 seats, then the chancel, and went on from there,” he says.
The model church contains everything from the stained-glass windows to the grand piano, and the pastor’s office computer. Everyone who’s seen it, including fellow parishioners, colleagues and architects, are amazed at the intricate detail he’s achieved.
“It’s easy to follow instructions and build what’s on the Lego box,” Rennels says. “I believe it’s more important for us to see outside the instruction boxes and develop our own creativity.”