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story.lead_photo.caption Joseph Jisa stands on a staircase Aug. 6 inside the Caretaker's Cottage at Jefferson City National Cemetery. Jisa is currently a student at the American College of Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina. This summer, he worked with the Historic City of Jefferson to rehabilitate the cottage. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

The road for Joseph Jisa to get into the field of historic preservation took many twists and turns.

Jisa's family moved to Jefferson City when he was 8, and during his youth, he remembers the tours he took of the state Capitol and Governor's Mansion as well as other local historic sites.

Following his graduation from Helias, Jisa enrolled in college in 2009 and was going into business marketing. However, he had a love of history, a subject he said he excelled in while in school.

"I always wanted to work in a field where you had a physical representation of whatever I was working toward," Jisa said. "I was not built for an office job."

Jisa eventually left college and joined the military, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was also during this time that his son, Tristan, was born.

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"I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do," he said. "I worked for an asphalt company, was in the building trades for a while, and I worked for 3 1/2 years at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. I was busy because I was trying to put food on the table."

Eventually, Jisa decided he needed to go back to school to try and find something he really liked. During this time, by happenstance, he had gotten into carpentry while he was serving in Iraq, and he found his hobby was actually what he should be doing as a vocation.

"A friend mentioned I should get back into the building trades, and so I found the American College of Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina," Jisa said. "I saw this as an opportunity to do something that would be more than just slapping up a new stick frame building. They're teaching me how I can combine my love of history with construction. It drove me into a pursuit in this field."

Jisa said it's still a fairly new idea in Jefferson City about whether a building is worth saving or just knocking it down.

"While I was at Helias and had a history course with Coach Mike Jeffries, he dealt with the non-traditional, nitty gritty stuff because it was something he personally was interested in, and it spurred a lot more interest in me," Jisa said. "Architecture goes hand in hand with that because a lot of history is influenced by the built environment. A person's history is unique, but a lot of times the places they've lived is just as unique or intertwined in their history."

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Charleston is considered the birthplace of modern preservation efforts in the United States, and at ACBA, Jisa said he is learning about why a building was built the way it was and why they used a certain method for that particular time period.

"Many older buildings were built with large timbers because they had them at that time, and now we don't, so you had to change your building methods," Jisa said. "It's helping me understand the background of some of the historic structures we have here in Jefferson City."

One of those structures is a Jefferson City landmark that preservationists plan to open once again to the public later this year.

After two years of negotiations, in June 2018, the Historic City of Jefferson became the first private entity to partner with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to rehabilitate the Jefferson City National Cemetery's old Caretaker's Cottage on East McCarty Street.

This summer, Jisa was on an internship and working for the HCJ, with the cottage being his focus.

"We had the tornado hit on May 22 — and that took a lot of momentum away from the work on the cottage — but we have been able to pick things up," Jisa said. "We've got a lot done on the second floor, but most of the work now is on the main floor where we are trying to rehab the home to make it usable, but with a historic eye."

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HCJ plans to rehabilitate the 149-year-old building into office space for nonprofit organizations. The hope is to have the home opened by the first part of September.

Jisa recently returned to Charleston to go back to his studies. He has two more years before he'll graduate and said he was grateful to have had the chance to work on the cottage.

"I had something set up with a local business for some cabinet work and that fell through," Jisa said. "After the tornado hit, HCJ was looking for help, and with what I'm going to school for, this just worked out very well."

Jisa hopes the work being done at the cottage will spur interest of local builders and government to get involved in supporting the preservation and restoration of local buildings. After he graduates, he plans to move back to Jefferson City and start a small business.

"My work here this summer has allowed me to network," Jisa said. "When I come back to town, I'll know a lot of people I'll be working with in the future."

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