Foster Piatt wanted to play the ukulele.
But he was 10 years old and just one of a large family in the middle of the Depression. So he made the ukulele from the woodpile of his family's Indiana farm.
He would go on to craft and play a banjo, a mandolin and several kinds of guitars out of maple, spruce and black walnut. He took that enterprising spirit into his life as a Wesleyan minister. After moving to Florida, the Rev. Piatt built 23 churches, starting with founding Brooksville Wesleyan Church in 1957 and serving as its first pastor.
He then founded the Florida District of the Wesleyan Church and served 32 years as its superintendent. The Rev. Piatt also founded Wesleyan Village, a 55-and-older community that now includes more than 300 homes.
The Rev. Piatt, who had been the last surviving founder of a Wesleyan district, died Nov. 1. He was 90. He had lived in Largo and Port Richey, and in recent years divided his time between Knoxville, Tenn., and Crystal Beach.
"If you talked to him, it wouldn't be five minutes before he would be talking about church, because he just lived it," said the Rev. Marlin Mull, the Brooksville Wesleyan Church's pastor from 2006 until a few months ago and a former director of evangelism for the national Wesleyan church.
As an administrator, he kept it simple. "He was the old-fashioned pioneer, the guy who started it all," Mull said. "But all the papers, you could put them in a drawer."
Like other Wesleyans, the Rev. Piatt did not drink or smoke. The church was founded in 1843 as the Wesleyan Methodist Church, out of strong opposition to slavery. It merged with the Pilgrim Holiness Church in 1968 to form the Wesleyan Church, headquartered in Indiana.
The Rev. Piatt was born in Adams County, Ohio. He was good with his hands, and music. "The only reason I never learned to play the piano or organ is because I couldn't make one," he later said. He attended what is now Indiana Wesleyan University, and went on to become an ordained minister. He married Mary Whiteneck 67 years ago.
In the mid 1950s, the Wesleyan church charged him with finding a place to hold church conferences and youth camps. Rev. Piatt selected 30 acres off Jasmine Drive in Brooksville, bought for $2,700. But his vision was larger.
Today there are 44 Wesleyan churches in the Florida district, including locations in Clearwater, Largo and Pinellas Park. "The difficulty of starting a new church is simply unbelievable," said Mull, 80. "Here's a guy that planted 23 churches. That's like winning 10 Super Bowls in a row."