He also is senior pastor of 5,000-member Southbrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, a job he’s held for close to 30 years.
Charlie McMahan, senior pastor at Southbrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, has repurposed or enhanced thousands of items on display in the basement of his Centerville home. This is his work area. STEVE MORRISON/CONTRIBUTED
His Centerville basement contains not only those 110, embodying NFL all-decade teams from the 1950s through the ’80s but also more than 200 others. There are bushels of Browns, a bevy of Buckeyes and a smattering of Indians, Reds and superheroes, not to mention dozens of Charlie-enhanced bits of memorabilia and a large section dedicated to his favorite movie: “Jaws.”
“That is my 10-year-old heaven,” says McMahan, 59, with a ready smile and a knowing laugh. “We all turn into little boys when we go into that basement. Every guy that’s come down there just turns into a 10-year-old.”
He also expressed his reluctance about sitting for an interview. “Do I really want to be known for my childhood obsessions? But I always say as long as I’m grown up in the right things, that’s what matters, because I’m not grown up in the things that don’t matter.”
It would seem an odd confluence, pastor and superfan, but McMahan says one feeds off the other and enriches both.
He says, “Surrendering to Christ doesn’t make you less yourself, you grow into becoming who you are. Part of my appeal (as a pastor) is that I can appeal to the artist and athlete both. It both disconnects me from my calling, but connects me to my calling because I’m healthier. I’m just healthier.”
A four-inch figure of current Cleveland Browns star Nick Chubb, as created by Charlie McMahan, is shown stepping out of bounds in a notable moment during the team’s game against the Houston Texans on Nov. 15. STEVE MORRISON/CONTRIBUTED
McMahan grew up in Newark and was a standout basketball player at Licking Valley High School. He is the all-time leading scorer at Cincinnati Christian University, which was then Cincinnati Bible College and now no longer exists. It was after his mother died in 2011, two years after the death of his father, that he reunited with a part of his boyhood.
His mother had bought him a large set of Marx figures, wildly popular 4-inch plastic characters from the 1950s until the company ceased production in the late 1970s. A spark was lit, even as sorrow had descended.
“That unleashed the whole creative side with me that had been dormant in me for years,” he says. “It’s grief and gratitude. It came to be a way that I connected with my grief. That basement is my gratitude. I’ve been blessed.”
He says the grief is not only over the death of his parents but the emotional hardships his boyhood and adulthood have presented.
“There are three stages of life: You think your family’s normal, you find out it’s not normal, then you find out that that’s normal,” McMahan says, adding that the bulk of his childhood experiences of going to all sorts of games with his father wasn’t shared with his four sisters, who have a different take on the past. “It does dredge up, and it’s all good,” he says.
A 4-inch figure of Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams is shown with jersey and cap from 1939. Charlie McMahan created the display on request for a family friend. STEVE MORRISON/CONTRIBUTED
From 2011 to now in terms of repurposing, he has obtained Marx figures and other types online, stripped them down, modified them physically when needed, then went to work. He uses an exhaustive uniform database online to find just the right combination for a given player’s era and prints out what he needs in terms of striping, numbers and logos, all at proper scale.
Then come the finer points: painting, often with toothpicks; fashioning an era-appropriate facemask with tweezers; cutting the printed material with scissors or an X-acto knife; and locking things into place with rubber cement or Gorilla Glue.
“The glory is in the details,” he says.
His passion has the wholehearted endorsement of wife Sherry and his grown children, daughter Jordan and son Austin. “Austin loves it because he knows he’s going to inherit it all,” he says. “Sherry thinks it’s great because she knows the health of the creative outlet.”
As of now, he has no plans to make money at what he does, though he confesses to perhaps needing a 3-D printer now that Marx and other figures seem to be in shorter supply. He also says that even though he knows his work is good, he’d have to improve and make them more original works through sculpting. But that would be after he gives up his position.
“As a pastor, when you’re paid to be good, it’s fun to do good for free,” McMahan says. “I’m in a no-lose situation. If I just make it for friends, that’s good enough for me.
“I got enough money to buy an old Browns helmet. When you have money to buy old Browns helmets, you’re rich enough.”
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Charlie McMahan, senior pastor at Southbrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, has repurposed or enhanced thousands of items on display in the basement of his Centerville home, including this wall dedicated to the Cleveland Browns. PHOTOS BY STEVE MORRISON/CONTRIBUTED