Paul Lutheran to celebrate sesquicentennial
Wanda English Burnett, Editor
A celebration worthy of 150 years of the Lords presence
in our midst, is how a former pastor of the St. Paul Lutheran
Church of Olean describes the upcoming sesquicentennial festivities
planned for Sunday, September 2 at the church in Olean on SR 129.
Every t has been crossed and every i dotted,
as the congregation is coming together to commemorate in a spectacular
fashion the number of years their church has thrived, six miles
south of Versailles. Last week, any night of the week, you could
find people working, doing landscaping, painting playground equipment,
practicing the organ, finalizing preparations for the main event,
a special service on Sunday morning. So many people have helped
get ready, said Barbara Eades.
A festival service of Holy Communion at 10:00 a.m. will be led by
three former pastors and the bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod
of the ELCA, Rev. James Stuck. The former pastors are Rev. Dr. Marcus
Felde, who served at St. Paul Lutheran from 1997-2007; Rev. Wilmer
Hallman, 1983-1997, and Rev. Doug MaGinn, 1977-1982. Also attending
the ceremonies will be Rev. David Frey, who served Olean from 1951-1956.
In addition, family members of two deceased pastors of Olean, Rev.
Carl Roepcke (1925-1938) and Rev. Wilbur Budke (1956-1976) will
Organist for the service will be Ruth Hunger, who first played the
organ at Olean in 1949 when she was a junior in high school and
is currently the regular organist. She will be playing the pipe
organ, which was just recently rebuilt and improved.
Preparations for the service have included the making of a dramatic
banner designed by Eileen La Greca and Barbara Eades, made in mosaic
fashion from tiny pieces of fabric, depicting the cross surrounded
by circles representing the Trinity. The result is breathtaking.
After the service, the Sunday School, led by Peg Ehlers, will be
burying a time capsule on the church grounds. Everyone has been
invited to participate by writing a note addressed to members in
the distant future. After this, all present will enjoy a catered
But, the 150th anniversary celebration is not just limited to one
Sunday. There has already been an organ recital on July 15. The
church will have a celebratory float in the Pumpkin Show parade
September 29. There will be a concert by a famous Christian childrens
music artist on October 26. A fine cookbook was compiled. A very
full history of the congregation is being published. And impressive
recent renovations of the church at Olean were timed to be completed
for this anniversary.
Children of the church have been raising funds to bring Mary Rice
Hopkins to Olean on October 26, as their gift to the congregation
and community to honor this anniversary. She is a nationally known
artist, and will be coming from California for this event. Says
Phyllis Armbrecht, who has directed the Cherub Choir for many years,
I know kids who are now grown who were raised singing her
music and are thrilled for the chance to meet her. (Watch
for more details in the newspaper as the date draws closer).
Copies of the cookbook, which has been very popular, are still available.
(Inquire through the church office, 689-6989).
The history book has as its title the theme of the anniversary celebration,
Faithful to Our Lord through Changing Times. The book
compiled and edited by Rev. Marcus Felde, is dedicated to the memory
of Alice Louise (Pegee) McCoy, who was so interested in the
history of our county. The book chronicles and changes which have
taken place in the history of the Olean church. In addition the
parish records of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials
are included in the book. Martha Jean Jarvis did much of the work
of transcribing these records. Among other features is a collection
of confirmation photos from 1900 on.
The history is told in three chapters. The First Fifty Years:
German Immigrants Build a German Church tells about when the
first church was constructed. It was located across what was then
the Vevay Road from the present structure. It only took
a dozen or so people to make the decision to build the church. For
over fifty years, the church conducted its worship, classes, and
meetings in German, and kept its records in the same language. Many
of those records were consulted in writing this history, and in
compiling a comprehensive list of all those baptized, confirmed,
married, and buried at Olean.
The Second Fifty Years: Becoming an American Lutheran Church
tells how a congregation composed entirely of German immigrants
and their children made the transition to being fully American in
character. It started with the departure in 1910 of a pastor who
did not even speak English. He was the last of Oleans pastors
to be born in Germany. But, by 1957 Olean was a pretty typical American
The Third Fifty Years: Growing in Many Ways tells about
the growth of the congregation-property-and-building-wise, numerically,
programmatically, organizationally, and spiritually -to its present
state. In recent years, the Church with the Glad Heart and
Hand (its motto) has pulled together to accomplish a great
number of renovations of the sanctuary, including new electrical
wiring, new sound system, new ceiling and plaster repairs, painting,
refinishing woodwork, new doors and wood trim, new pews and chairs,
a new handicap access restroom, etc. A new grand piano was also
Not many years ago a new parsonage was constructed on the churchs
property, and in the decades before that an education building and
picnic shelter were constructed.
From the first pastor, Rev. Rudolph (1857-1858) to the most recent,
23 pastors have served Olean, with Rev. Wilbur Budke staying the
longest - 20 years.
St. Paul Lutheran Church is a church rich with tradition, especially
a tradition of generations of people who have faithfully served
the Lord in this place. Their ties to the past are perhaps symbolized
in the sign which was recently discovered and now hangs in the education
building. Hand carved and painted and mounted high on the wall of
the first church, it had lain in hiding for several decades until
Aaron Westmeier mentioned that it was standing in a shed behind
his house. Retrieved from there, it was beautifully restored by
Esther Hunger, with the help of her husband, Larry Hunger and Mike
Swango. It reads (in German, of course) German Evangelical
Lutheran Church of St. Paul, built in 1857. Lord, strengthen us
in the faith. Fear not, little flock.
This tradition is carried forward today under the leadership of
a Church Council of which Ralph Miller is president, Frank La Greca
is vice president, Mary Ann Geisler is secretary, Edward Armbrecht
is treasurer, Rodney Hyatt is elder, Paul Obendorf is deacon, and
Jennifer Huntington is financial secretary. (Remarkably for a congregation
with a number of families deeply rooted in the last 150 years of
Oleans life, many of the Church Council have not been lifelong
members of the church). As of January 1, 2007, Olean had 417 baptized
members and 352 confirmed (adult) members.
Even as the congregation celebrates its long life together and the
hard work accomplished over the years, they remember that, as the
history book says, What is most important is not what pastors
or members have done, but what God has done in us.
WANDA ENGLISH BURNETT PHOTO
Pictured from left are: Eileen La Greca, Ruth Hunger,
and Barbara Eades, who spent endless hours working on
a dramatic banner made in mosaic fashion from tiny pieces
of fabric, depicting the cross surrounded by circles that
represent the Trinity. La Greca and Eades designed the
banner for the church's 150th anniversary celebration
set for Sunday, September 2.