Part of the Grand Design

If you’ve ever stepped foot on a Young Life camp, odds are you’ve enjoyed some time in one of George Mastny’s creations. From club rooms to dining halls to dorms, he’s quietly helped design some of Young Life’s most iconic buildings. He accomplished some of this during his 35-year career as an architect, but the majority came in retirement. From his late 60s to early 80s, Mastny volunteered his extraordinary design talents to Young Life; overall he worked on 42 structures and saved the mission hundreds of thousands in design costs.

Mastny’s selfless service to Young Life is reason enough to celebrate the man. However, spend a few minutes in the 97-year-old’s company, and you’ll discover this is but the tip of the iceberg in a remarkable life.

Servant

A cold northern Minnesota morning, February 24, 1921, marked the birth of George Mastny. It was a different kind of harshness, though, that followed him for the next 18 years.

“Our family broke up when I was four years old,” Mastny said. “Six of the seven kids went to an orphanage in Minnesota. In those days they sent kids out as indentured servants, and you were expected to earn your keep. I grew up working on a farm until I was 18.”

Upon his emancipation, Mastny left and spent a year with the Civil Conservation corps, where he helped build 100-foot lookout towers, made maps of lakes and studied soils.

In 1940, he enrolled in the Army Air Force. Given the option of leaving for Hawaii or the Philippines, Mastny chose Hawaii. Next stop: Pearl Harbor.

Soldier

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Mastny and his fellow mechanics were on guard duty in a tent city on Hickam Field. The men heard loud blasts in the distance and assumed nearby Navy pilots were in training exercises — that is until they saw dive bombers “with the red balls painted on their wings.”

“It happened so quickly, you didn’t have time to think about what you were feeling,” Mastny recalled. “Our instincts were to just grab our Springfield (single shot!) rifles. The dive bombers came in pretty close, so we hid behind our tents and tried to hit them at the end of their dive. I don’t know if we hit ’em or not. I suspect not.”

The morning attack claimed the lives of 189 men at Hickam. All day the soldiers waited for an invasion they were sure was coming; when that didn’t happen, they prepared themselves for action. “I came back to the United States where after training, I qualified to be a flight engineer on a B-29.”

Mastny stayed in the Army until war’s end, and upon reflection considers himself fortunate to have been at Pearl Harbor. “I’m lucky I didn’t go to the Philippines back in 1940; I’d have been in the Bataan Death March.”

Scholar

In 1945, with the war behind him, Mastny joined the millions enrolling in college through the GI Bill.

“I was going to study aeronautical engineering, but there were so many going into that field I thought I better find something else. I was strong in math and art, so I decided to become an architect. I didn’t even know what an architect was!"

Mastny attended the University of Minnesota, where he met the love of his life, Pat. A former Navy nurse, she was pursuing her own degree in nursing and teaching. They married in August 1948 and graduated two years later.

Mastny credits Pat with introducing him to the Lord. “Where I grew up, nobody went to church or prayed or anything. She took me to church and got me on track!”

The college graduate embarked upon his career in architecture and his talent did not go unnoticed. Along with buildings, shopping malls and other structures, he can even count designing a house for famed Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz among his many accomplishments.

In the late ’60s when the four Mastny kids encountered Young Life, so did George and Pat. Echoing the statement of countless adults in the mission’s 77-year history, Mastny said, “We didn’t know what Young Life was, but our children got involved and so did we.”

George and Pat began by volunteering on the local committee in Minnetonka, Minnesota; when their two daughters, Kathy and Kristin, served on work crew at Castaway Club, the Mastnys became even more deeply involved with the mission. In the early ’70s, Mastny met Dave Carlson, the camp manager who would eventually become Young Life’s vice president of Camping.

The two shared a mutual love for Christ, kids and construction; soon Mastny’s architectural firm was working on Castaway’s dining hall, dorms and other structures.

“The relationship grew into a real friendship, one I deeply appreciate to this day,” said Carlson. “George is an excellent listener, which helped him clarify needs the Young Life camps had; he knew the quality we were striving for, the limited financial capacities and the stewardship we want to extend to our donors. As a donor and committee member, he had such respect for the donor and their dollar, so his designs always had a quality look but without an extravagant cost. George set the Camping department on a great course and he’s why our camps are where they are today in terms of quality.”

Steward

Mastny retired in 1987 after nearly four decades of architecture, but the Master Architect still had some designs for Mastny and Young Life.

“When I retired I thought I’d help out a little bit, and then quite a number of camps called me!” laughed Mastny. “But I loved it. Those 14 years were the best years of our lives because of the people in Young Life. We enjoyed becoming friends with camp managers and staff. Pat was a people person; she related to the staff and spent a lot of time with them. She was also a nurse, so if they didn’t have a doctor during the time we were at camp, she became the camp nurse.”

The couple traveled from camp to camp, pulling up in their fifth wheel and setting up shop. “I had a drawing table inside and we’d just camp there and do the work.”

In all, Mastny worked on 14 camps: Castaway Club, Crooked Creek Ranch, Frontier Ranch, Lake Champion, Lost Canyon, Oakbridge, Rockbridge Alum Springs, Saranac Village, Southwind, Trail West Lodge, Timber Wolf Lake, Windy Gap, Wilderness Ranch and Woodleaf!

Every project was a challenge, said Mastny. “But the most interesting and complicated designs involved two buildings at Frontier — the dining room and the club room. We needed to double the size of the buildings, but still keep them under operation while they were built. For the dining hall, working mostly during winter months, we cut a hole in the roof for the new columns and set them down through the hole! That was a fun project.”

In 2002, Pat was diagnosed with bone cancer. “With her illness, I couldn’t be away, so that’s when I stopped working for Young Life.” Mastny cared for Pat at home, where she died nine years later. “It was a privilege to be able to take care of her to the end.”

Dave Carlson remains effusive in his praise for Mastny. “The biggest gift was watching how he and Pat gave of themselves and never expected a favor in return; just give, give, give.  As wonderful, encouraging, older mentors for Mary and me, they were real people who walked through life holding hands with Christ. George is a guy you can only love!”

When it’s suggested that thousands of kids have probably given their lives to Jesus sitting on a porch or in a club room he designed, Mastny simply smiles and responds with typical humility. “I was blessed. The best years of my life were when I was working for Young Life. We grew through Young Life!”

Student

Today Mastny continues to “do Young Life” through building relationships in his own quiet way. He shares his love for art by teaching a watercolor class for his fellow residents in his Littleton, Colorado, apartment complex.

“I have eight students in my class and we had over 100 pieces of work in the winter show.”
When not teaching painting, Mastny has another way of connecting with his neighbors — he makes a mean cheesecake! “Often, I have three different people over, and we talk over cheesecake! I have about eight different recipes. Last week was cherry chocolate!”

This love for people springs out of a teachable spirit. “I have a quick verse program on my computer with over 100 books. Every day I use seven books: three on devotions, two Bibles and two commentaries. To get this done before Pat woke up I started getting up at four in the morning. I developed this as a habit. I still get up at four and spend an hour and a half to two hours in prayer and study every morning before breakfast.

“I know we are saved by faith and not by works. The work I do is in response for all He has done for me in my life. Looking back, I can see He was ever-present and keeping me alive and out of trouble. I made plans for my life. He has made changes I was so disappointed with at the time, but at this point I can see how much better they were than what I had planned. May any work I’ve done be all to His Glory.”