Going Home Again
The Progress edition story on the First United Presbyterian Church in West Bend took me “home” again. That was the church where I grew up, attended Sunday School, participated in Christmas pageants, attended youth group and sang in the choir.
Just walking through the doors of the church brought back a flood of memories.
The First United Presbyterian Church was chartered Dec. 23, 1883, and dissolved July 30, 1972. Since then it was used as the Masonic Hall and after that as the Historical Museum. I was in the building when it was a museum and it was a nice museum, but it wasn’t our “church.” Now, it is our church once again.
When Jean McClendon purchased the building she contacted me to see if I had any history of the church. I located some information that my mother had kept, made copies and sent it to Jean. I was pleased to learn that she got the church named to the National Register of Historic Places. Now I think she should have the originals papers that I found to put on display in the church.
Jean’s enthusiasm for the church building is contagious. She just bubbles when she talks about the original paint colors, the original wallpaper, the original lighting and the original windows. She praises the local craftsmen that put the building together, saying “They were artists when they built something and they built it to last.”
There were only about six layers of wallpaper. The bottom one was gilded gold with a velvety green and burgundy design. Jean has seen many, many pictures that show that wallpaper pattern when the pipe organ was in the church. There is a picture of the pipe organ and the minister at the pulpit; the pipe organ was huge, Jean says.
Since the church is on the National Registry, the main floor must remain in its original condition. But her plans for the basement call for guest quarters for women on retreat, a place to relax.
One of her most interesting thoughts is to have a Memorial Presbyterian Service every years on the anniversary date that the church dissolved.
Jean is also seeking pictures and memories from people associated with the church. “That will bring the building back to life,” she says. “That’s my goal, to give her life again.” So, anyone wishing to share should get in touch.
We walked through the church and identified where the Sunday School rooms had been, where the choir robes were stored and where the choir sat to sing. I remember ringing the bell before service and luncheons in the basement. It was a great place to grow up. We had a lot of fun at that church.
Now she has a new life, Jean and her church. Jean McClendon plans to spend half the year in Iowa in her home next door to the Presbyterian Church and half the year in California with her family. She is looking forward to having musical events, non-denominational weddings and retreats in the church building. And she is looking foward to welcoming former parishioners “home” again.