Wilson Church History
1892 – 1901
Almost 100 years have gone by since those who were the first members of this church came upon the scene of action. It was in the winter of 1879 that Elder D. T. Bordeau held evangelistic meetings in Kewanee, Wisconsin. As a result of this effort several families accepted the Adventist faith. This group of believers were so enthusiastic and in earnest that they didn’t want to wait until spring to be baptized. There were no baptistries inside warm churches as we have now, so an opening was made through the ice in the river and there they were baptized.
Among those baptized were the Ferdinand Routheauxs, Mrs. Theophil Duca, Tom DeGraves, Joe Werys and Peter Werys. In time, this group moved up into this area. At that time there was a Seventh-day Adventist church in Stephenson, so they joined that church. Traveling by horse and buggy twenty-five miles to church was difficult so they weren’t able to attend regularly, especially in the winter time. To make things easier they decided to meet from home to home here, as a branch of the Stephenson church. Even this was difficult because their homes were far apart and there was a river to cross. Several families lived on one side of the Big Cedar River and several on the other side and there was no bridge on which to cross. In the winter they could go over on the ice, but in the summer they felled trees and went across on the tree trunks. The children that were old enough walked with their parents and the babies were carried in their mother’s aprons. They often ate dinner together before starting back to their homes.
Brother Silvan Everard and Florman DePas from Stephenson would occasionally come and have services with them. For the Lord’s Supper and baptisms they all went to Stephenson by horse and buggy or on bicycles. They would go on Friday and come back on Sunday.
By 1889 there were 15 adults plus children who were meeting for services. The new adult members who joined the group were: Mr. and Mrs. Emil Baurain, Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel Vanderville, and Mr. and Mrs. Desire Wery.
As new members were added, it was necessary to have larger quarters in which to hold their services. Arrangements were made to meet in the public school which had been built in 1890, and was located on the west side of the road in what was then Joe Wery’s field. At present this land belongs to Mrs. Frank Motto.
1902 – 1907
In 1902 Elder Marshal Enok held meetings here. There were more baptisms and our Wilson Church was organized. The new members added at this time were: Martin Duca, Mose Duca, Joe Baurain, Mr. and Mrs. John Lanaville, Mr. and Mrs. Antone Lanaville, Mrs. Desire Routheaux Jarden, and Esther Lanaville. These new members brought the total membership to 24. Emil Baurain, Mary DePas’ father, was appointed first Elder and continued in that office for many years. Joe Wery was chosen to be first deacon.
Most of the members of this new church were of French descent, so of course the services were in French and they sang from French hymnals. As the children grew up and English-speaking converts were added, the English language gradually came into use. For several years one or two French songs were used in the services and there was a Sabbath school class for the French speaking members. Finally when most of the older ones had passed away the French was discontinued entirely.
Many of the early converts in this church came from Catholicism, and there are interesting stories handed down about the struggles that came when the Sabbath question was presented to them. A few years before Gabriel Vanderville passed away he told about his conversion. When he moved here he lived in a house across from Harold Mack’s store. Mr. Baurain went to give him Bible studies. He and his wife were both interested until they came to the study about the Sabbath and its observance. His wife was furious and said she would never accept it. On his way home on a dark, rainy night, Mr. Baurain knelt under a tree across from Martin Duca’s place. This is where Allan Lanaville now lives, and earnestly prayed that the Holy Spirit would help them to make the right decision. Three weeks later both Mr. and Mrs. Vanderville went to Stephenson and were baptized.
We as a denomination consider Christian education of utmost importance. Therefore the history of our church schools is interwoven with the history of our churches. The Wilson church was no exception, so we find that in 1907 our first church school was conducted in the home of Ferdinand Routheaux, who lived on what is now the Gurosh farm. This is about four miles from where our present church is located. The teacher, Charles West, boarded at Joshua Wery’s and walked to and from school everyday. Joshua Wery lived where 0. 0. Snowdens live now. There were 12 children in attendance coming from the homes of Desire Wery, Peter Wery, and Ferdinand Routheaux. Elder Bellows daughter, Pluma, also attended. All, except Desire Wery’s children, boarded at the Routheaux home during the week. By this time Francis DePas, who had moved here from Wisconsin in 1906, had children of school age. They too wanted their children in church school, so the next two years school was conducted in the homes of Joshua and Peter Wery consecutively. Because these homes were more centrally located there was no need for any to board out. This made more room for children to attend. Church school that year included children from the DePas, Baurain, and Vanderville families.
1908 – 1948
The need of having a building for church and school was keenly felt so in 1908 plans were formulated and work began. Joe Wery gave the land that our present church now stands on. Most of the labor was done by the church members and some of our neighbors and merchants donated money.
The church was barely useable when one of our first members, Mrs. Joe Wery, passed away. Hers was the first funeral held in the new church building.
About this time Esther LaCount and son George joined us and also Wolf Rhodes, who took a great interest in helping complete the church.
By 1911 the church was finished and dedicated with Brother J. J. Irwin, the conference president, and Elder Bellows officiating.
As the years went by, the church members thought it would be nice to have a bell to ring on Sabbath mornings and to toll for funerals. Accordingly a steeple was built in 1912. The bell for the steeple was a gift from Henry Lanaville. He purchased it from Sears, Roebuck and Company for $39.00. The next big question was how to get the bell up into the steeple. First they tried to pull it up with Peter Wery’s horse, but the horse was too small and couldn’t pull it up. Then they hitched Joshua Wery’s big horse onto it and up went the bell. John Lanaville was the bell ringer for a while, then others took over the duty.
The bell was rung one-half hour before Sabbath school as a reminder that it was Sabbath and that we belonged in church. Its mellow tone could be heard for miles around. Some of the school children considered the belfry a good hiding place when they played hide and seek or when they just wanted to keep out of sight.
One beautiful occasion to be celebrated in this new church was the wedding of Mary Baurain and Frank DePas on March 12, 1913.
About this time Wolf Rhodes built a shed for horses on the north side of the church yard. You see, in those days people came to church with horse and buggy or a team and wagon, and while the people were inside the church attending services the horses needed shelter from the wind and cold in winter or the hot sun in summer. The school children made good use of this building too. It was a lot of fun in the winter when the snow was deep, to climb on top of the shed and jump off into the snow bank.
When the plans were made for that first church in 1908, the members did not forget about Christian education. They partitioned off a room at the back of the auditorium to be used for church school. It was in this room that many of our present members received their early education. Many boys and girls went in and out of that little school room during the 26 years that followed. Then in 1937, with an increasing church membership, it was decided to enlarge the auditorium by removing the partition that separated the school room from the main auditorium. That meant no more church school for a while. Certainly many parents were saddened over this change in affairs but they didn’t forget to keep on planning for the future.
Four years went by and again this fast growing church needed more room. This time the church building was raised and a full basement made underneath. This space was divided into Sabbath school rooms for the junior, primary, and kindergarten boys and girls. Then two rooms were added on to the front of the church, one on each side of the belfry. The entrance to the basement was through the room on the south and the other space was used for a cloakroom. The completion of this part of the building process was solemnized by the wedding of Beatrice DePas to Clayton Soper on July 9, 1942.
As was mentioned before, Christian education was not forgotten, people were thinking and plans were being made. In the fall of 1947, a public school building was purchased from Ford River Township and moved onto a piece of land across the road from the church. At that time this piece of land belonged to Frank Messersmith, Irvin and Earl Messersmith’s father. By September the following year, our children were again receiving a Christian education.
1949 – 1962
With plenty of room for our church family and our children attending church school again, all was peaceful and seemed to be going quite smoothly. One day the furnace in the church became overheated and the building caught fire. Everything that could be done was done, but as the sun set on October 20th, 1948, all the work of years lay in a heap of ashes. The bell that had so many times called us to worship and to church school lay in the ashes, cracked and of no more use.
Our faithful church members were not defeated, but with new courage, again began to plan for a new building. That very night a board meeting was held, followed the next night by a church business meeting in the Gourley Hall at which definite plans were laid. Those plans included the following: an auditorium 48′ x 80′, which would include a baptistry, choir loft, and balcony, and be able to seat about 500 people. There would be a full basement underneath in which would be rooms for the children’s Sabbath school divisions and a furnace room. The entrance to the church was to be 12′ x 34′ and contain a cloakroom, mother’s room, and rest rooms. The estimated cost of this building was $55,000. We decided on a woods project to get materials and cash. The timber on several state forties was acquired, and all who were able went to the woods to work. In the winter time a cook stove was taken to the woods and dinners were served. The woods rang with the sound of voices and the shout of “Timber”, and buzzed with the sound of axes, power saws, tractors and trucks. Our pastor at that time was Elder A. R. Mohr. He donned his overalls and with men, women and children, went to work to rebuild. We were very fortunate at such a critical time in our history to have a pastor like Elder Mohr, who was willing to work and to undertake with such a big project.
We were also thankful to the school board in Carney for allowing us to use their gymnasium and two classrooms for a couple of months to hold our services in.
By Christmas time the basement of our church was ready for use. Then when warm weather came again the rest of the building began to take shape. The siding had been put on, rafters installed, and half the roof was sheeted when along came another disaster. On the night of June 20, 1949, a big windstorm, of tornado-like force, swept through the neighborhood. The wind got under the finished part of the roof and lifted it right off. It also blew down part of the sides of the building. Some of the siding and roof plus the rafters and beams were salvaged. More timber and more money was needed, so back to the woods we went again.
In August we began to hold services in our new church even though it was not entirely finished. Campmeeting was held here August 25-28, 1949, with 400 persons present at the opening meeting. Elder G. E. Hutches, president of the conference, was the speaker. The Lake Union president, Elder L. E. Lenheim, spoke Friday evening and at the 11 o’clock Sabbath service. Elder Kreitsky, who had spent three years behind the “Iron Curtain,” had the Saturday and Sunday evening services. The children’s sabbath school was held in the church school building across the road. Visitors were housed in eight tents on the church grounds and in private homes. Plate lunches were served during the day in the public school building next to the church. On November 19, 1949, we were happy to have the members of the North Daggett Church join us. This swelled our membership to 144.
In 1950 the public school building, which had been purchased the year before, was moved across the road and placed beside the one from Ford River. Then, we had a two room school and operated as such for fourteen years. That same year we purchased an acre of land from Mrs. Earl Nestle to enlarge our cemetery, and Ignes DePas was appointed sexton to look after it. In order to meet operating expenses, it was decided to charge $10.00 per cemetery plot. Now, along with everything else, the price has risen, until today a plot costs $50.00.
In 1952 the school building was sided and a new roof put on.
By 1953 the wood projects, which brought in $3,000, were complete. The Dorcas Society had helped by raising $1,500 to pay for the stained glass windows. The work of rebuilding had been done entirely by the members of the church, with one exception. That was for the exterior Perma-Stone finish, which was done by a contractor. So finally, with projects and gifts of church members and friends, our church was completed; free of debt and ready to dedicate. Invitations, with a picture of our church on the front cover, were sent out inviting relatives and friends to the dedication services which were held on Sabbath, October 17, 1953. Elder G. E. Hutches, president of the conference, gave the dedicatory address at the eleven o’clock service.
Not long after the dedication, Pastor A. R. Mohr, who had done much through the years of struggle, moved away and Pastor Eckerman came to take his place. He was pastor here for three years. In 1956 Elder A. R. Lickey came, but stayed only a short time. He was looking forward to public evangelistic work, so the next September found him moving. Pastor B. J. Furst took his place and stayed until November, 1959. Then Elder J. H. Turner served as pastor until September, 1963.
During the time that Elder Turner was here we found another way to supplement our free-will offerings. This time it was a bean project. For two summers string beans were planted on the Ignes DePas farm and the third summer at Florian Bergers. At harvest time the fields were alive with children and grown-ups busy picking, weighing, and loading the beans to be hauled to the Norway Canning Factory. Part of the time a picking machine was hired, but there was still plenty of work for the pi~kers — $1,984 was added to our church funds as a result of the bean projects.
Homes for ministers and teachers were hard to find in this rural setting, so a parsonage was built by the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and was made ready for use in 1961. The parsonage is located two miles north of the church on County Road 551. Pastor J. H~ Turner was the first minister to live in the new home. In September, 1963, Elder Huff came here from Iron Mountain to pastor our church.
In 1962 a home in Menominee was give to us by the Michigan Conference to be used as a teachers home. Some of our members dug a basement and prepared it for the house. Then the house was moved by George DeGrave to the waiting basement and foundation on the corner of the Wilson Church property. This home being near the school made it so much more convenient for the teachers who lived there.
1963 – Present
As the church family grew and the young people became more numerous the two room school proved to be too small. So in 1963 a committee was appointed to look into the possibilities of building a new school. February 16, 1964, the church met in business session and voted to erect a new three room school with a gymnasium. The building was to be of pre-fabricated steel, with two wings. One wing, 60 x 66 feet would contain the three classrooms. The other wing would be 72 x 52 feet and be used for the gymnasium. Pastor William Hubert from Lansing came for a month and directed an “Every Member Canvass” for funds to see the new school become a reality. This was to be a three year program. But our church members were so anxious to have the new school that several went to the bank and borrowed the money and paid their three year commitment in advance so work could start at once.
On May 8, 1964, the Butler Building arrived and our members went to work in earnest. It meant a lot of hard work, sore backs, and some short nights as the members again donated their labor. People were very concerned and afraid that the building would not be ready in time for school to begin in the fall. But we were all happy and relieved when on September 8, three classroom doors swung open to 59 students from grades 1 thru 10. That year Mrs. Ol1ds taught grades 1-4; Mr. Schutt grades 5-8; and Donald Olds grades 9 and 10. In the spring five young people graduated from the 10th grade. Since then there have been 50 more tenth grade graduates and 140 eighth grade graduates. Now that school was in progress the work pace slacked up a little. Two more years went by before the gymnasium was finished and the building ready for dedication. During that time Ted Mabie came up with another idea for raising money. He is in the construction business, so when a building was ready for a roof he would call for a “roofing bee.” The money raised in that way was a real help to increase our church funds and hasten the day when the school could be dedicated.
That important day arrived January 22, 1966. About 300 persons were present for the 2:30 p.m. service which consisted of the following: an organ prelude by Mrs. L. A. Pomeroy, a vocal duet entitled “How Great Thou Art.” The welcome was given by Pastor Lee Huff. Pastor B. G. Butherus had scripture and prayer. Our Wilson School Band played “Fairest Lord Jesus,” followed by the reading of our school history by Ray Berger. When Elder Turner was our pastor he organized a children’s choir, called the Cherub Choir, so it seemed very appropriate for them to have a part in the school dedication. They sang, “Lord I Want to be a Christian.” Ralph Berger, chairman of the building committee, presented a picture of the new school to the congregation. Pastor J. D. Smith, president of the Lake Union Conference, had a few remarks. The dedicatory address was given by Pastor William J. Hubert, Church Development Secretary. The act of dedication and the dedicatory prayer was given by Pastor N. C. Wilson, president of the Michigan Conference, after which the congregation sang “Faith of Our Fathers.” Pastor L. G. Wartzok pronounced the benediction.
The estimated worth of our school at the time of dedication was $90,000. Cash investment was $75,000 and the rest of the value was contributed labor. As you have noticed from the reading thus far, we as a church have done a lot of changing and improving through the years. Then came a period of quiet. Eleven years have gone by since the school dedication and twenty-three years since the church
was dedicated. Nothing had been done to improve our church except to carpet it upstairs and down and buy an electric organ. Then came the need for more space for the Dorcas Society or Community Services as we call it today. For many years we had met in the cabin by Harold Mack’s store. We were very thankful to be able to use this space, but sometimes the boxes got piled so high and wide that we hardly had room to work. The big question in many minds was “Where?” Where can we find a place to go? The idea of building a new building on the school grounds was considered. It would cost more money than we thought we could raise and would mean extra expense for upkeep. Another idea was to use the space in the basement of the church that was not in use for sabbath school rooms. With this in mind, Howard Berger went to the basement one day and did a lot of thinking. He came up with a plan, that when presented to the church in business session, was accepted as the best solution to our problem. Slips of paper were passed out on which those present were to put the amount they thought they might be able to give toward the remodeling. When the amounts were added it appeared to be enough to do the work. A motion to remodel the basement was made and supported. It was voted that this remodeling be done under the direction of Howard Berger, Ted Mabie, and Elmer Turnquist. The materials for the work were ordered and work began. All the partitions in the basement were removed. The rugs and other things were moved up into the auditorium. So from December 1, 1975, to May 22, 1976, our services were held at the church school.
While the remodeling in the basement was still going on the building committee got the idea that while we had the mess around we should also make some improvements in the auditorium. That idea led to another business meeting at which it was voted to proceed with the added repairs. Again the church members went to work to accomplish the task set before them.
Today we have three large sabbath school rooms on the south side of the basement with built-in cupboards in each room. On the east end is a stairway, rest room, furnace room, and storage space. On the north side is a large Junior room and a 25 x 50 foot Community Service room. The sabbath school rooms are carpeted and have new ceilings and walls. The new ceiling in the sanctuary has been lowered and the walls freshly painted. The approach to our church has been improved too. There is a new cement walk with space on each side for shrubbery and flowers and an attractive new sign to let the passerby know when services are held.
The story of the growth of our church would not be complete without including its growth in membership and offerings. From a membership of 144 in 1949 we gradually climbed until we reached the 200 mark. At present our membership is 200.
Our offerings climbed much faster than our membership. In those early days when the mission offering was taken in the children’s sabbath school rooms the children sang, “Hear the Pennies Dropping.” Today their offerings consist of more dimes and quarters than pennies. It is not unusual for their offering to total around $30. Grown-ups have increased in their giving too. Many dollar bills find their way into the offering envelopes these days. The sabbath school offering for grownups and children together for the month of June this year was $482.98. At one time away back in those early days it was suggested that each member give two dollars a year for church expense. This custom of taking a church expense offering was followed for many years. Then about the time that our new church school was built in 1964 it was decided to adopt a new plan called “corn-bined budget.” The money turned into this offering goes to pay for Sabbath school expense, our three church schoolteacher’s salaries, and the upkeep of our church and school. Each month we need at least $2,400 to cover our expenses.
Besides the Sabbath school offering for missions and combined budget, our faithful church members give a tithe, or tenth of their income toward the support of the Lord’s work. Not long ago one of our church members found an old Lake Union Herald. In that paper it stated that the tithe for the Wilson Church for June 1911, was $10.04. For the month of June this year the tithe sent into the conference was $3,519.16.
All this growth in numbers, buildings, and offerings, did not just happen by chance. The Lord has surely blessed through all these years. He has blessed with many and varied talents that have enabled our members to build, teach, plan, preach, and give to carry on our work at home. Not only in our home church have these talents been used but many of our young people have gone into other churches and mission fields to share their God given talents.
And now that we have, to the best of our ability, brought you up to date with the happenings of the past years, we leave you with the hope that the future of this church may still be more prosperous than the past. May each member be faithful so that those of the past, present, and future may all be able to meet together in that heavenly home. May we join our voices in praising God throughout eternity for the way He has led and the great things He has done.
1907-1923 R. J. Bellows
1963-1966 Lee Huff
S. C. Hannon served as associate pastor from 1916-1919
1907-08 Charles West
1968-69 John Liewellyn William George William Dudgeon
This history has been written as one of several projects undertaken by the Bicentennial Committee of the Wilson Church in commemoration of our nation’s Bicentennial Celebration.