Facing dire diagnosis, Garcia graces GCU with crosses from campus salvage

GCU's Roberto Garcia poses in his home garage workshop with wooden crosses he has made from scraps around campus.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Roberto Garcia likes tool sheds and forklifts, woodworking and talking.

“I’m a big talker,” he said, standing next to a table saw in his Glendale garage workshop.

This was an hour after the longtime facilities worker at Grand Canyon University started with this:

“One day I went to breakfast with my son, and after I was done I couldn’t get up … I told my daughter I didn’t feel good, and she took me to the hospital. The doctor told me what I had and said, ‘If you can survive two years, that’s good.’ It’s been more than two years.”

The 68-year-old Garcia continued, saying that before, he would have claimed the partial remission of his stage four prostate cancer was due to his athleticism – staying healthy while playing soccer, refereeing or running marathons until recent years.

“But, no, it’s because of God. If God wants me to be here, I’ll be here. I used to go to church 50%, now it’s 100% – well 99%,” he said with a laugh. “Your attitude changes in life. You start looking back at the things you do, and you have done.

“Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t start making crosses because of that.”

Garcia has made wooden crosses for years out of scrap wood he finds around campus. He gives them away or sells them.

Roberto Garcia has made countless wooden crosses in his home garage workshop.

“A cross brings a lot of peace, a lot of joy,” he said.

“This one is made out of the old gym. I want you to take this,” he said.

Shouldn’t, really.

“I’d really appreciate if you would take this.”

Several of Roberto Garcia’s crosses were made from flooring and bleachers of the old gym.

The cross still has purple paint on it from the bleachers of the original Antelope Gymnasium, build in 1967 and home to three men’s basketball NAIA champions before it was remodeled into classrooms, its bleachers dismantled and left in a pile of refuse.

“It’s pine and has the old paint. The steps were painted, that way you knew where you were supposed to walk,” Garcia said.

Garcia couldn’t believe the bounty that he saw in the years after he started work at GCU in 2004 and the campus began to grow. He grew up in Mexico before his family settled in the Seattle area, where he got a community college soccer scholarship and began working as a carpenter and in homebuilding.

He moved to Phoenix with his family in 1983 and began to referee soccer games at GCU, when he was asked if he wanted a job in facilities. A few years later, he spotted wood piles from the old gym floor and bleachers.

Roberto Garcia varies the style of his wooden crosses with burn markings.

“What are you guys going to do with this stuff?” he asked before being told it was waiting to be hauled away. “Can I take some of it home? I can make something of this. They looked at me, ‘This is a strange cookie here.’

“I took a plank and made a cross.”

He gave a few away, simple crosses with router edges or others adorned with old pieces of metal found on campus, some carrying that purple paint. The athletic director at the time, Keith Baker, got one early on, and treasured it so much that after leaving GCU he remembered Garcia when Phoenix Christian Preparatory School was replacing its gym floor. He saved it just for him to and asked for some "floor" crosses.

Keith Baker's treasured GCU gym floor cross.

“I will give them to you,” Garcia told him.

“I’ll take 50,” Baker said.

“I will sell them to you.”

So for $5 each, he made a bunch and also began filling orders at GCU in its Lope Shop, where today a larger version is housed in a Bible display, and smaller ones are for sale, with a new shipment expected by May.

Word spread. So today he makes some that aren’t out of the gym floor but are also meaningful – the leftovers of campus growth, including old pallets, even particle board. He’s got some around his home workshop and entryway made of campus wood and backed by cement rebar. (He’s poured a lot of concrete around campus).

One of Roberto Garcia’s wooden crosses hangs by the front door entranceway of his Glendale home.

“They said Jesus was a carpenter, and that Jesus did all kinds of stuff with the wood He found. I’m not the only one that started doing this stuff,” Garcia said.

He’s not about to claim divine inspiration. He got the idea while building homes and owners asked if he could make a cross out of leftover wood. Only later did he find out how meaningful it would become to him.

“I don’t go around preaching about God. But the preaching is when I start giving something away of God,” he said.

He comes to work at GCU 32 hours a week, he said, because he “wants to get up say, ‘I’m alive,’” while getting treatments to keep the cancer from growing more rapidly. Yet he gives thanks to a higher power, even as more orders come in from all over campus for his crosses.

“I never used to get a pleasure out of it. Now I do. Because I told you what I got.

“I try to enjoy life more. I never enjoyed life. I was always in a hurry. Build more. Lay concrete. Build this garage. Always hurry up. Never sit down and relax. Now I do.”

All while talking as fast as the growth of GCU, celebrating its 75th anniversary partly due to men and women like Garcia who cut the lumber and drive the forklifts.

“I want to leave my mark,” he said. “Roberto was here.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: New crosses rise up in busy campus location

GCU News: GCU's Christian roots reflected in 75th anniversary 'Grace Tree'

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Bible Verse

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