For Richele Shepard and Jeff Smith, the word community is an action verb. Since graduating from Wittenberg, which they credit for cultivating their commitment to service, the couple has embarked on a journey to revitalize Springfield’s struggling south end.
Following their wedding in 1999, the couple purchased a 3,000-square-foot Victorian home in Springfield’s South Fountain historic district. As an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer assigned to the Clark County Literacy Coalition after Wittenberg, Smith became connected with local neighborhood associations, social service agencies and other community-focused organizations, which introduced him to the district.
Shepard, a lifelong Springfield resident, was already committed to helping her hometown, so the decision to purchase the home was easy.
“We wanted to live where there was a strong sense of community, where neighbors helped neighbors,” Shepard said. “South Fountain is also an old-fashioned neighborhood just waiting to be rehabilitated,” Smith added.
Despite the daunting task of single-handedly renovating what was at the time a chopped-up apartment house with no running water or heat, the couple persevered, and Springfield has benefited as a result.
Today Shepard, a counselor with the Family Service Agency, currently serves as president of the Springfield Preservation Alliance (SPA), which has more than 100 members, all of whom want to protect and preserve the city’s history, architecture and treasures. Smith now contracts with the Literacy Center, and together the couple has purchased two more homes in the district, which they are currently renovating and renting.
“We’ve been able to bring more single-family residents to the community, which has transformed the area,” Smith said.
“Springfield really needs community-minded people who want to advance the city,” Shepard added. “I believe in strong community involvement. It’s not just a philosophy for me; it’s part of who I am.”
Smith, who often helps his neighbors by letting their dogs out or watching their homes during their absence, agreed.
“Springfield is filled with wonderful people all seeking to improve this city and its historic districts,” Smith said. “We can’t imagine living anywhere else in the area.”