Brethren In Northern Illinois and Wisconsin
By John Heckman and J. E. Miller
Contributed by Ethan Scearce
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Irvin Creek (1869)----------------------------
It was in 1915, that, at the suggestion of the writer, the Polo church asked the district meeting to appoint a committee to “gather and preserve historical material and data of the churches and workers of Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, that it may be available when a history is to be written.” Committee appointed: Cyrus M. Suter, D. L. Miller and John Heckman. D. L. Miller soon alter withdrew from the committee and J. E. Miller was added. Questionnaires were sent out and much valuable material was brought together. Several approaches were made toward writing the history. Staler passed on to his reward. Delay proved valuable, for in 1936 the way opened to devote time to completing the research through all the churches and communities to secure facts and materials that were fading from the memory of the pioneers and their descendants.
We acknowledge the interest and help so generously given by all. Special mention is made of Eld. John J. Emmert of Mt. Carroll, who kept a diary from 1857 to 1893 (with one year missing), the time of his death, in which he jotted many passing events of the church, its leaders and membership. And, also, of Eld. Mien Boyer of Lena, who made notes of many district meetings, subjects discussed, and especially of love feasts and ministers.
In the earlier years the churches kept no orderly records of their doings. In the late seventies records were beginning. They were making history with little time to record it. With some there was an aversion to recording the activities of their public meetings. Much of this early history has been secured from what has been told by word of mouth, family traditions, old deeds and wills, old Bibles, marriage records and diaries. Even tombstones hold secrets, some of which we have been able to unlock. The research work has become a fascinating hobby. These people of the past have become my friends. I almost live with them. I let them talk to me. Their good deeds and achievements have become a great inspiration to me and this little volume is put forth to record the doings and thoughts of those who have gone before us that we may inherit, not so much their methods as the spirit in which they did their work, and the devotion to their tasks, unfinished and left to us to carry on.
Greenwood, pg. 112 (1897)
In the fall of 1893 the following Brethren families from Indiana settled in Door County, eleven miles north of Sturgeon Bay on the west side of the peninsula: Henry J. Cripe (a deacon) and wile, Francis Peden and wife (parents of Howard), J. B. Felix and wife, Lulu Felix and Viola Felix. In the spring of 1896 Simon E. Yundt of Mount Morris held some meetings for them and baptized John and Manfred Cripe, sons of Henry. Meetings once a month were continued by Simon B. Yundt, Henry C. Baker and C. P. Rowland, and Sunday school was conducted by local talent, all in the home of J. B. Felix.
A council meeting was held on September 4, 1897,. in the home of Eli Miller, with 0. E. Price and Simon E. Yundt presiding. At the council the following business was transacted:
The group was organized under the name of Greenwood, taken from the evergreen forest around them; Yundt was chosen as elder; Eli Miller elected deacon; Francis; Francis Peden as clerk; J. B. Felix as treasurer; and Henry J. Cripe correspondent. Everything seemed set for permanent work. several asked for their letters and moved
Baker, who knew Wisconsin and preached for them at times, advised them to seek a better location. Acting on his advice the church was disorganized in the spring of 1899, some moving to Chippewa Valley and others to Stanley. The mission board came to the rescue and helped some of them to locate elsewhere. This last statement tells why it was best not to remain in that locality.
Worden, pg. 113 (1904)
In the spring of 1897 several Brethren families settled in Worden Township, Clark County, east of Wolf River. Among these families were those of Joel Cripe, John Stong, Jacob Cripe, Samuel Ulery, James Henderson and Thomas D. Van Buren. They began holding prayer meetings, meeting for the first one in the home of Jacob Cripe. Lennie Cripe and George Van Buren were baptized in the summer of 1898. That fall they built a log schoolhouse in which they also met for worship. Next spring John Patten, a minister from Ash Ridge, settled among them. He at once began preaching for them. In November of 1899 they held their first love feast, and about that time organized their first Sunday school with Samuel Ulery superintendent, and an attendance of about twenty. They soon built a new schoolhouse in which regular services were held. In 1904 they erected a meetinghouse at a cost of about $2,000 including labor, most of which was donated.
During this period the group was a part of the Maple Grove congregation. Maple Grove is seven miles southwest of Stanley; Worden is eight miles southeast of Stanley. The topography is such that it was not easy for these two groups to worship together. On November 26, 1904, permission was given to form a separate organization. Henry C. Baker was present at the time of organization and was chosen elder. In 1906 William I. Buckingham and wife of Illinois, being missionary minded, moved to Worden, where for two years, at their own expense, he served as pastor. Following Buckingham, W. H. Byer and wife served the church as part-time pastors, receiving partial support from the district board. In recent years Worden belongs to the Stanley-Maple Grove-Worden parish, all being served by Pastor Lewis Hyde. It is quite evident that if the smaller congregations are to have the benefit of a supported pastor the larger parish idea must become more prevalent in the Church of the Brethren.
Worden has experienced a number of revivals. Among the evangelists that have held successful meetings for this congregation may be mentioned C. P. Rowland, C. S. Garber, F. A. Myers, John Beckman and J. G. Royer. Ruth Ulery, once missionary to China, lived in this section when a child.
The women began their Aid activities in 1918, meeting in private homes. Much of their service is not recorded in writing, but the neighborhood has benefited greatly because the Aid gave to those in need, visited the sick and fostered a community spirit through banquets and other gatherings.
Willard, pg. 115 (1909)
Because of failing health and a change in administration Aaron L. Clair resigned his position as teacher and business manager in Mount Morris College, recuperated and in 1906 with his family located at Willard in Clark County. At once he began improving his property. Being in a wooded country he set up a sawmill to provide lumber for himself and others, at the same time clearing some of the land for agricultural purposes. A Sister Albright (Mrs. Clair’s sister) also settled in the neighborhood. Two years later Harvey and Anna Trostle Long located at Willard but their stay was of short duration. J. O. Royer, whose keen eye was ever looking for a new opportunity to do mission work and with whom Clair had long been associated in college work, preached for the Brethren group at Willard and in 1909 effected a church organization.
It was the hope of the Willard Brethren that many others would settle among them. Their hopes could not be realized. Clair was the only minister among them. Long with his preaching he was busy at the mill and with other duties. On March 23, 1913, a serious accident at the mill caused his untimely death, which militated against further progress for the shepherdless congregation. The district meeting of 1913 considered the matter and appointed J. O. Royer and H. C. Baker to disorganize the Willard congregation. Thus ended the nobly conceived ambition of a faithful minister to build a new Brethren church in a new field and help in developing a prosperous community.
Rice Lake, pg. 116 (1913)
It was in 1906 that Frank Feldkirchner and family left the prairies of Illinois and took up their abode at Rice Lake, once a prosperous lumbering center. As the forests were cut down the community suffered because of the fading industry. Other Brethren came in after the Feldkirchners, among whom were J. E. Morphew (a minister) and wife, William H. Eiler (a minister) and wife, L. H. Root and wife, Nels Prytz and wife, Paul Morphew, Floyd Root, Hazel Root and Esther Prytz. These same parties became charter members when the Rice Lake congregation was organized later.
These members held their membership in the Barron church, which was fifteen miles distant. Because of distance they were not privileged to worship with the Barron group. However, they took an active part in a union Sunday school. Occasionally visiting Brethren ministers dropped in and gave them services in the schoolhouse. When church activities came to an end at Barton in 1913 Rice Lake was organized on July 20. In fact, we may consider Rice Lake as a reorganization of Barton. The Rice Lake membership has always been scattered so that the working part of the congregation near the meetinghouse is much smaller than the entire membership. At present only about fifty of the 120 members listed live a convenient distance from the church.
With 1915 increased activities were manifest. On November 9 Henry C. Baker was present when, in the home of h T. Vine, the first love feast was held with seventeen at the tables. The following year a small meetinghouse was erected in Oak Park, an addition to the city of Rice Lake. Though the house was small and cost only $1,200, it was a forward step and has served well to the present. Ralph G. Rarick, a student at Bethany Bible School, delivered the dedicatory sermon on December 2. The Sunday school which had been meeting in the Evangelical church and in the home of Charles Lender was transferred to the new church. J. E. Morphew, assisted by William K Eiler, filled the pulpit appointments until 1920. A. S. Brubaker was pastor from 1922 to 1933. The Aid was organized in 1920, the first daily vacation Bible school was held in 1922, and in 1924 the young people’s conference was held at Rice Lake.
Handicaps to the work have been the widely-scattered membership and absentee eldership. Wisconsin has always suffered from nonresident eldership. Since 1939 C. A. Bryan has been serving as pastor.
Stanley, pg. 117 (1919)
The Maple Grove and Worden congregations are both rural and the membership trades at Stanley. Gradually Brethren families began settling in town. When a boom struck Stanley, members, mostly from Iowa and Minnesota, were attracted and helped swell the Brethren numbers. Here as elsewhere the distance from town to a country church seemed farther than from the country church to town. Ere long the town members began to think of a house of worship within the corporate limits. Just at that time two Lutheran congregations united, leaving one church house vacant and for sale. The Brethren saw their opportunity and were not slow in grasping it. Three wide awake deacons, O. W. Henderson, Charles Guyer and Wesley Berry, set themselves to the task of raising the money to purchase this Lutheran house. Within one week they had secured $1,000 in cash and $2,000 in pledges. With this in sight they felt it was safe to move on further.
On March 29. 1919, the members met in council for the purpose of organizing, with fifty-seven charter members. S. C. Miller, Sunday-school secretary for the district, was present, presided and was chosen elder for one year. On the day of organization the three deacons mentioned above, along with S. C. Miller, were authorized to purchase the Lutheran meetinghouse for $3,000. So far all was rosy. But the boom burst, depression came on and Stanley was hard hit. The pledges given cheerfully and in good faith while work was plentiful failed to materialize when factories closed and pay rolls vanished. But the church hung on, worked hard and made the best of the situation. Payments were made as money was on hand. The, holders of the mortgage understood the situation and did not want to foreclose. They realized that changing conditions called for new adjustments. Through friendly co-operation, in August of 1936 the holders of the notes cheerfully accepted $600 as payment in full for the unpaid balance of $1,074. These $600 dollars came into the hands of the district through the wrecking of the Shannon meetinghouse, which netted more than twice the amount that could have been had for it had not the men planned and disposed of the building. Here is a fine suggestion as to what can be done in the way of financing a church proposition when business methods are applied.
At the same time the church was organized, O. W. Henderson was appointed superintendent and the Sunday school began to be a vital part of the church activities. In September Walter W. Gibson of Indiana took up the pastoral work and in November the first love feast was held for the new congregation with seventy-five at the tables. Ralph G. Rarick was the second pastor. In July 1920 the house and lot adjoining the church were purchased for $2,500 to become the residence for the pastor. The young people showed their interest by pledging that when the payment was reduced to $2,300 they would pay the balance. By 1938 they had paid the debt in full. For some time now one pastor has served Stanley, Maple Grove and Worden. By this arrangement this one parsonage in town has become the pastor’s residence, the three congregations have pastoral supervision and the expenses of the three congregations have been materially reduced from what they would be otherwise. Lewis Hyde continues to serve as pastor of the three congregations.
From Kipp Kippenhan: I found the work on the "Brethren Church" very informative.
The following history of Mount Morris College is included here because of its importance in the lives of two generations of the Clair family. Aaron L. Clair attended school here, and later taught classes and was business manager of the college. His sister, Mary Clair attended classes there for a year. Aaron's wife, Elizabeth was a student at Mount Morris College when the couple met. In addition, two of Aaron's daughters were students at Mount Morris College. Ada Clair studied to become a teacher there, and her sister Alma also attended Mount Morris College.
The following information is extracted from the publication "The Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol. 2 (K-Z), 1983"
Mount Morris College, 1879-1932
"At the time of the founding of Ashland College in Ohio in 1879, another effort to establish an institution of higher education among the German Baptist Brethren began in Illinois. Unlike colleges that had already been founded by groups or individuals within the brotherhood, the college at Mount Morris had had a history of almost forty years under the jurisdiction of the Methodists in Illinois before a group of Brethren bought the property. The college had been known as Rock River Seminary since it's founding in 1838. In 1871, the operation of the school was suspended until it reopened two years later. However, due to the heavy financial burden of the school and the establishment of Northwestern University, a much larger and better-equipped school at Evanston, Illinois, Rock River Seminary closed
J.H. Moore, publisher of "The Brethren at Work" in Lanark, Illinois urged the establishment of a school for the Brethren in Illinois by calling an educational meeting in the Silver Creek Congregation near Mount Morris. At the meeting Melchor S. Newcomer, a prominent minister of the Brethren and successful merchant in and around Mount Morris, claimed the Rock River property could be bought for $6,000. Newcomer was willing to contribute half of the funds if arrangements were made for the other half to be contributed by other Brethren. At another meeting, held in the town hall of Mount Morris, citizens of the town demonstrated their enthusiasm and support
for the project.
On August 20, 1879 Mount Morris Seminary and Collegiate Institute opened its doors. More than 200 students were enrolled by the end of the first year and there was a faculty of eight. John W. Stein, a Brethren elder from southern Missouri was personally selected as president by M.S. Newcomer, who served as trustee and treasurer of the board of directors.
In 1882, D.L. Miller was elected president to succeed Stein who had abandoned his post and his family. At the end of the first year, however, Miller took a trip to Europe, leaving the school in the hands of S.Z. Sharp, the only teacher who was a member of the Baptist Brethren. Sharp had been president of Ashland College but had resigned when it came under control of Progressive Brethren.
By 1883, Mount Morris had entered a very difficult period. Leadership of the college was crippled by Stein's sudden departure and Miller's lack of academic training. The college also faced a financial crisis, one which was so critical that negotiations were begun for the sale of the property to the Studebaker wagon manufacturing company. However, this move created concern and anger among students and the citizens of the town, resulting in the boards search for a president and another financial commitment to assure the college's future. J.G. Royer, superintendent of schools at Monticello, Indiana and founder of the Burnett's Creek Normal School, came to Mount Morris, invested heavily of his own funds in the college, and accepted the presidency of the institution. He served for the next twenty years as president of Mount Morris College and placed it on a firm foundation.
Throughout Royer's administration, the course offerings changed very little. The courses of instruction included the academic department, or Academy, which offered a college preparatory, or normal school program; the seminary department; and the collegiate department. Until the first decade of the 20th century, there were few students of college rank. However, among the earliest degrees conferred was a Bachelor of Arts degree granted in 1889 to E.S. Young who was later to become one of the founders of Manchester College.
Upon J.G. Royer's resignation in 1904, John E. Miller, a former student at both the Academy and Seminary of Mount Morris, was elected president. Being the first president of the institution who had earned an academic degree (M.A., University of Illinois, 1902), he helped raise the educational standards at Mount Morris by appointing to his faculty the first teacher with a Ph D degree. The college continued to grow steadily until tragedy struck the school. On January 15, 1912, a fire gutted "Old Sandstone", the main campus building. Whether to rebuild "Old Sandstone" or construct a new building was an important issue among the constituents of Mount Morris College. The administration decided to rebuild. In 1915, president Miller resigned and in the remaining seventeen years of the schools existence,
Mount Morris had six different presidents.
Beset by financial difficulties, negotiations with the administration of Manchester College regarding an affiliation or merger were quietly
undertaken. These fell through and the school continued to struggle for survival until a second disastrous fire struck the college in 1931, leaving four of the five buildings utterly destroyed or severely damaged. A special committee of the General Education Board (CB) recommended to the trustees of Mount Morris College that they take steps to effect a merger. However, with respectful appreciation for the suggestion, the trustees decided to continue the school. Despite their good intentions, the board unfortunately was unable to eliminate the college's financial difficulties, and by unanimous vote, decided to close their college at the end of that academic year (1931-1932) and merge their work with Manchester College. A printing firm, the Kable Brothers Company, took over the campus buildings and agreed to
assume all financial obligations of the college. Annuity contracts and endowment investments were turned over to the General Education Board of the Church of the Brethren to be divided between Manchester and McPherson colleges".
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P.S. -- Ada Clair taught at the Willard, Wisconsin Graded school for a couple of years before marrying Anton Zevnik.
Aaron Clair's sister was Mrs. George H. Hintz of Willard, Wisconsin.
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