UNION TOWNSHIP PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
LeMars Sentinel, Thursday, October 19, 2006, Pages 1 & 3:
As a seven-year-old, Travis Dempster went to the little white church at the corner of K-64 and C-44 every Sunday.
Now, as an adult, he's returning to the church, but this time not to sit in the smooth wooden pews and hear preaching from the pulpit or singing from the choir loft.
He'll be calling the church home.
Last week the county board of adjustment gave their assent for Travis and Danielle Dempster to turn the little white church into a house.
It's a bittersweet moment for the congregation of Union Township Presbyterian.
This 116-year old church was raised out of the Iowa prairie by circuit riding preachers. It was built on offerings gathered from farmers selling corn at 45 cents a bushel. It was a place of peace when the congregation weathered harsh droughts and worse winters.
But this summer the church held its last official service.
"It's not easy to see your childhood church close--we just simply ran out of people," said member Cherry Cliff, who has poured her heart into the church's upkeep and decorating for years.
With smaller farms making way for bigger ones, the congregation dwindled at eight or ten members for some time. But for those members and many others, the church building has been a fixture in their lives.
"It's the only church I've ever been to," said Ellen Hamilton. Her grandfather, Zach Eyres, was the lead carpenter when the church was built in 1890.
Passing the building on to the Dempsters makes it a little less tough, Cliff and Hamilton agreed. After all, Travis is the fourth generation of Dempsters to belong to or be in the church. In fact in 1991, at 12 years old, he was the youngest member. The oldest member then? His great-grandmother, Mary Faye Burrill Dempster Eyres at 94.
****Union Church: Members Recall Circuit Riders, Plum Tree for Christmas****
"It feels like home to me," Travis said of the church. "I'll be reliving part of my childhood."
He remembered swinging around a maypole behind the church, and once, when he was 15, he and some cohorts snuck out and moved the pastor's little blue car out to a hiding spot in back of the building.
"At that church we were all like one big family," he laughed. "Cherry kind of adopted us, and she always had easter baskets for us. And the potlucks were great. I loved Ellen Hamilton's angel food cake--she always made it from scratch."
Travis' mother Karen shared family memories of the church at the board of adjustment meeting last week.
"My son was baptized there," she smiled. "He and Danielle want to leave the outside look as much like the original as they can."
And that means a lot to the congregation.
"It's going to stay on the corner," Cliff said. "We're happy it's going to be here. And I'm so happy it's going to be made a home. The Dempsters have been active in the church and that means a lot."
On the inside, the Dempsters will remodel to make the place home, but are thinking of keeping the wooden cross at the front, the same cross that nearly 600 congregation members turned their eyes to over the years.
The Dempsters asked the church if they could keep four of the pews in the home.
"We're going to try to make our kitchen chairs out of them," Travis said.
The rest of the pews are spoken for by members, neighbors and friends of the church. As for others items like altar cloths and the guestbook stand, many are museum-bound.
"We want a place to go where we can see these things," Cliff said.
On the outside of the church, the Dempsters plan to add a garage on the north.
And there is the matter of water.
"We haven't had water at the church for a long time," noted Travis' father Roger. "They'll have to get rural water."
A water system was actually installed in 1949, but of late the church had reverted to a method similar to their original one--carrying water in ten-gallon milk cans and using it sparingly.
The church has seen a lot of changes over the years. Cars replaced the horse-drawn buggies bringing folks to church. Light switches made round wick oil lamps obsolete. And an automatic furnace eventually proved more feasible than a huge stove.
Along with changes, fond memories mark the building's history.
Circuit rider Reverend Rainer preached in Union Township before the church was built, and his family lived in a tent that summer.
Then, in a time when carpenters worked for $2 a day, the church was built for $1,544.92.
In 1890, the Reverend Bailey (who) conducted the dedication service proved an interesting character. Not only was he a missionary, but also a Civil War veteran who lost his arm in the fighting.
A pastoral home was built in 1892, then nearly a century later in 1990, the church gave it to the young Mike, Kathy and Jessica Ream family, who moved it to rural Liberty Township.
Then, in 1911, the first pine tree replaced the usual plum trees used for Christmas trees in the church. Young members set out in a bobsled to bring the tree in.
In June 1990, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary, packing the pews with current members and those who'd moved on, one who remarked, "This is where my heart is."
Cliff and Hamilton agree. Those words sum up the hearts of the members of a church that has become a landmark in Union Township.
"May the Lord continue to bless and watch over the little white church on the corner," Cliff said.
~Article transcribed and submitted by Viv Reeves
~Caption beneath photo of church's interior: "Signs of change are showing up in the Union Township Presbyterian Church. Built in 1890, the church held its final official service but it won't be closing its doors forever. A family that's been in the church for four generations is making it a home. Tags mark many items to be distributed or placed in a museum."