Rural church celebrates 125th

By Corrine Ludwig
Journal correspondent

A “Program of Memories” is part of the celebration this weekend commemorating First Plymouth Presbyterian Church's 125th anniversary.

The church at 16119 Hickory Avenue is between Akron and LeMars.  Events begin with a banquet and the “Program of Memories” on Saturday.  The Rev. Richard Massaro, executive presbyter of Prospect Hill Presbytery who lives in Storm Lake, will lead the 10 a.m. Sunday worship service. Following a noon luncheon, the afternoon program will feature Sue Flemr of Akron as the guest speaker. Flemr is a chaplain at St. Luke's Regional Medical Center in Sioux City.  Greetings from former pastors of the church will be read.

The Rev. Randall Knuth, pastor at First Plymouth Presbyterian Church since 1994, also serves the Associated Church of Hawarden as a shared ministry.

Karen Mortenson and Shirley Timmins co-chair the steering committee for the anniversary  celebration.  Knuth, Vera Atkinson, Don Mortenson and Ralph Taylor also serve on the planning committee.

On August 11, 1872, 15 people met in a house seven miles northwest of LeMars to organize into a Presbyterian church body under the care of the Fort Dodge Presbytery.  Until a church was built in 1880, members met in school houses and community homes.
The first house of worship, constructed by volunteers at a cost of $517, was dedicated to “the worship of almighty God according to the mode of public wor­ship and teachings of the Presbyterian Church.”  Fifty years later a new church was built.

In 1965, the congregation decided that a modern church building was needed to serve the programs of First Plymouth Presbyterian.  The new brick and block edifice completed in 1968 is trimmed with Georgia white stone.

Twenty-five ministers have served at the church.  The anniversary book credits organist, pianist, vocalists and instrumentalists with providing music.  Sunday school classes for nursery-age children through adults continue to be offered.

The First Plymouth Presbyterian Women meet twice a month.  Their historical records show a variety of projects over the years, ranging from fund-raising work and sewing days to hosting bazaars, suppers, ice cream socials, an annual “Family Night” and “Guest Days.”

Plymouth Brotherhood, a fellowship of men, has helped area people during times of need in such ways as organized farming “bees.” They also keep the buildings and grounds in repair and provide cemetery care.

“We cannot begin to fully write the history of our church because true history is not made up of facts, but in the spirit and the vitality of those hearers and souls who have gone on before us,” Knuth said.  “What the future will hold for us, none of us knows.  The work and ministry of Christ Jesus is not com­plete as we enter a new era.  There is much yet for us to accomplish.  The work's not done; we've only just begun.”

Source: The Sioux City Journal (Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa) of 07/04/1997.

Atkinson leads celebration

Plymouth Church dinners began in 1922
By Judy Bowman
Feature editor

This Saturday and Sunday, Vera Atkinson, 91, of rural Merrill, will be doing what she does best, serving her church.

She’ll get in her 1988 Chrysler at her farm five miles west of Merrill and drive the seven miles north to the First Plymouth Presbyterian church on Hickory Avenue, rural LeMars.  This senior church member is on the Anniversary Committee, which will lead in the celebration of the congregation's 125th birthday.

The festivities will begin with a banquet at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by a program of “Memories.”  Sunday's celebration will include worship at 10 a.m. and a cold buffet luncheon at noon.  An afternoon program will begin at 2 p.m.

Vera Atkinson plans to be in the thick of the action.  After all, she's been a member for nearly 80 years and is in her third year as an elder.

As she reviews her years at Plymouth Presbyterian, she says, “I think they've all been good for me.”

Atkinson will give a welcome speech as the 125th celebration gets underway. She is as independent as those half her age.  “I don't drive at night.  I drive in Sioux City, yet.”

If the roads are good Atkinson never misses a Sunday at church.
Born west of Merrill in Johnson Township on Sept. 23, 1905, Vera, the daughter of George and Sarah (Taylor) Gabel, was baptized at the Adaville Methodist Church.  The family would travel to church in a horse and buggy.  “Where I was born to where I live now is about a mile,” Atkinson notes.  She now lives in Liberty Township.

Vera recalls the beginning of her tie with Plymouth Presbyterian church.

“My aunt (Mrs. Arthur Gabel) was one of the workers trying to get the church to open up and get new people to come.  She asked us.  My dad wouldn't go to Adaville, but he would come up here.”

She remembers those early days when her father drove an Essex to church.  At Christmas time the family would take the bobsled and go to Sioux City to choose the Christmas tree for the church and haul the large tree back to Plymouth Presbyterian.
Vera graduated from LeMars Central High School in 1924.  She married Milton E. Atkinson on June 9, 1925 at the minister's parsonage in Sioux City.  The couple attended Plymouth Presbyterian.

The couple’s two children were baptized and confirmed there.  Bruce now resides in Chicago and Sandra lives on a farm near her mother.

When Vera first started attending the church, she worshipped in the original wooden building on the corner north of the present church cemetery.

“It looked like a school house,” Vera recalls.  She played the pump organ in the old church.

She points out that the history of that original wooden church is a rich one.  A page from the Akron Centennial book states:

Material for the church was hauled, some of it by oxen team, from a saw mill near Elk Point, S.D.  The stone for the foundation was from the Missouri river near the same town.  The labor was nearly all donated, the farmers doing much of it by kerosene lantern light after their day's work on the farm was completed.

Next came a brick church dedicated in 1930 and the present church dedicated in 1968.
“I’m kind of fond of all three of them.” Vera says.  The novelty of the first church was special.  The second church was “the best at that time,” and now the new church is accessible to all since there are no steps.

One of the big events through the years at the Plymouth Presbyterian has been the annual chicken supper.

Vera recalls, “We cleaned the chickens and made pies and peeled potatoes.”

Those were the days when Vera and other women in the church raised their own chickens.

According to old minutes, the first venture by the church women was a spring buffet in 1922 in the home of Mrs. E. R. Taylor, which was followed annually by strawberry socials.  The Ladies Aid then decided to have a chicken supper, sponsored by the Ladies Aid.  The early dinners were staged in Brunsville on the second floor of the bank.
“We carried everything upstairs; we used old-time gas stoves to keep the food hot,” Vera recalls.

Old minutes show that “since 1936 the entire church takes a few days off to put on the supper, and it is time well spent, for it creates a spirit of fellowship and sociability as we work together in the interest of the church.”

Although the supper has since been discontinued, women of the church, like Vera, remember the hard work.

In 1945, the church served 106 chickens and 83 pies.  That feed required five bushels of potatoes, 14 lbs. of butter, 40 glasses of jelly, 9 1/2 gallons of milk, 13 quarts of cream, eight quarts of salad dressing, 17 quarts of pickles, two bushels of tomatoes, 75 lbs. of cabbage, 850 rolls, five loaves of bread and 20 lbs. of sugar. As much as possible was home grown.

“Everybody just worked and we had the best time,” the longtime member says.
“I was the last chairman of the dinner,” Atkinson notes.  The dinners were discontinued when they became too much work for the church members.

Vera also was active in teaching Sunday school, serving as Sunday school superintendent and leading the Youth Fellowship.  She was church organist.  In the early days Atkinson was in charge of the Ladies’ Aid, a group involved in sewing and mission work.

She was named Outstanding Senior of the Presbyterian Prospect Hill Presbytery in 1985.  She also served as a delegate to the National Presbyterian Women at Purdue University.

Atkinson has watched changing times on the farm scene.  Membership has dropped as young people leave the farms.  There are now approximately 40 members; in earlier days, Vera remembers there were 40 young people.

Until this year, men in the congregation farmed the 40 acres surrounding the church.  This year the land is being rented out since there are not enough members to do the work.

Serving with Atkinson on the anniversary committee for the big  celebration this weekend will be the Rev. Randall Knuth, Don Mortensen, Karen Taylor Mortensen, Ralph Taylor and Shirley Timmins.

Source: LeMars Daily Sentinel (LeMars, Plymouth County, Iowa) of 07/04/1997.

Submitter: Bruce Atkinson



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