LeRoy Troyer ’71

A Life Well Built

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LeRoy Troyer ’71 spent his entire life building.

As an architect, he designed and built thousands of structures—both with his own Mishawaka-based firm, the Troyer Group, and as a longtime volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Rooted in his Mennonite faith, he also built a loving family and countless friendships with people from all walks of life, including former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, with whom he worked on Habitat projects for more than 30 years.

And throughout his entire life and career, Troyer built a legacy of faith, hard work, and service.

LeRoy Troyer died Dec. 2 at the age of 81. But, his grandson Luke Troyer said, his legacy, and all of the things he built in his life, will live on.

“What motivated him was a dream and the challenge of turning that into something real,” Luke Troyer said of his grandfather. “Because that is something he did time and time again in his life, through all the projects, through the business that he created, through the family that he created. Those are all things that he dreamt of and made possible through his determination and work ethic and resourcefulness and faith and passion.”

LeRoy Troyer grew up in an Amish family in Middlebury, Indiana, and took an early interest in architecture and construction. His 4th grade teacher, during a lesson on careers, presented on architecture, and it became his dream to become an architect. Troyer’s upbringing also instilled in him a tireless work ethic, his grandson said: “His dad, on the farm, put him on chores when he was five years old, so his work ethic was phenomenal. And he was plowing the fields and he would go and build barns and other structures.”

LeRoy Troyer left the Amish community at age 16, during the period of Rumspringa.

“He chose to go and follow his passions: architecture and construction,” his grandson said.

He began working for a local construction company, got married, and moved to South Bend in 1959, the same year his first son was born. Troyer and his wife Phyllis would welcome twin boys three years later, but his dream of becoming an architect remained.

So, he turned to Notre Dame. But with no high school diploma, the University would not admit Troyer, at least not at first. Admissions staff told Troyer that if he could prove he could succeed in college-level courses, he would be eligible for admission at Notre Dame. So for three years he took night classes at Indiana University South Bend before finally enrolling in the Notre Dame School of Architecture in 1966, at the age of 28 and with a wife and three sons at home.

“He kind of has a story like Rudy, without football,” Luke Troyer said of his grandfather’s unconventional path to Notre Dame. “It’s a story of triumph. It’s a story of never giving up. I like to think of it as the American Dream epitomized.”

But Troyer’s time at Notre Dame was only the beginning of that dream. Upon graduation, he recruited two of his classmates and founded his own architecture firm, LeRoy Troyer and Associates, which would later be renamed the Troyer Group. The firm—which specialized in faith-based institutions, colleges and universities, libraries and senior living facilities—would eventually grow to 120 employees, with offices in Mishawaka, the Chicagoland area and Virginia. 

But, Luke Troyer said, most people know his grandfather not for his work at his eponymous architecture firm, but for his service with Habitat for Humanity. LeRoy Troyer’s involvement in Habitat began while he was a student at Notre Dame and attended a United Nations conference on affordable housing. He went on to serve on the organization’s international board from 1985 to 1992. And, after meeting Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in 1985, Troyer oversaw all of the Habitat projects the Carters worked on for the next 33 years, during which time the Carters and LeRoy and Phyllis Troyer became close friends.

“It’s something that they’ve always cherished,” Luke Troyer said of his grandparents’ friendship with the Carters, adding that LeRoy and Jimmy Carter had similar upbringings and work ethics, which would lead them to stay and work on their Habitat projects for hours after other volunteers left for the day.

Troyer ultimately helped build or renovate more than 4,200 homes in 14 different countries during his more than 40-year affiliation with Habitat for Humanity. That includes 41 homes in Mishawaka and South Bend during the 2018 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, which Troyer was instrumental in bringing to his hometown.

“For him to still be alive and to have that come here, and for him to experience that in his hometown was such a rewarding thing,” Luke Troyer said of last summer’s project.

During that week, the Carters called LeRoy “the best volunteer we’ve ever ever had,” and said, “He’s been a true inspiration to us.”

Outside of his work for Habitat for Humanity, LeRoy Troyer was particularly proud of two of his architectural projects, his grandson said. The first, Nazareth Village, is an open-air museum in Israel that recreates village life in Galilee in the time of Jesus. The other is Ark Encounter, a Biblical theme park in northern Kentucky, the centerpiece of which is a timber-framed replica of Noah’s Ark, built to biblical specifications: 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high.

But even outside of architecture, Troyer always gravitated toward people with a dream and a vision of what they wanted to achieve in life, and always sought to help them advance their vision. And that, Luke Troyer said, is a big part of his grandfather’s legacy.

“He would give his time to a lot of different people, and he would always be interested in helping people, even if it wasn’t about architecture or a construction project,” his grandson said. “If someone had an idea and a dream, that’s what got LeRoy going.”