BELL CENTER - In the early spring of 2020, it was curiosity that prompted Starr Myers, Bell Center, to stop after she drove past the Bell Center Methodist Church and the door to the church was open.
Starr knew the building hadn’t been used in years. She went inside and learned a member of the village board was showing the church building to a carpenter, who was considering purchasing the property to use as a workshop.
“I remember thinking it would be such a shame for this piece of Bell Center history to be sold,” Starr recalled. “We have very little left of the old Bell Center.”
She shared her disappointment with her husband Doug and friends Mara Heisz and Jeanne Christie. It was decided that they would attend the village board meeting to see what could be done to save the old church building from being sold.
At the next Bell Center village board meeting during the public input portion, the neighbors spoke to the board of their concerns and told them they would like to try to repair and preserve the building.
The village board members indicated that they felt keeping the old church building may prove to be a financial burden to the village. However, the board agreed to consider their plan and advised that a steering committee should be formed.
Jeff Christie, Village President, his wife Jeanne and Starr Myers were quick to step forward as the committee. A special village board meeting was scheduled to discuss the matter and to allow for public input.
Well as they say, news travels fast in a small town.
“It seemed like the whole village showed up to the special meeting” Myers said. “There were people there that we didn’t even know, and all through the evening stories were going around about the Bell Center Methodist Church and how it had been such a big part of the community.”
After the meeting, many in the group walked or drove to the church building, where Jeff unlocked the doors and everyone went in to take a look. Many memories were shared.
Folks were talking about the Bell Center Elementary School where classes for grades one through eight were held. Each year, the school would have their Christmas program at the church. Numerous families would gather there to watch and listen to the children sing and perform for the community.
The first church services at the Bell Center Methodist Church were held in 1893 and continued on until April of 1961 with Pastor Ken Barnes being the last pastor to serve at the church.
Mae Bell played the organ for many years at the worship services, and later, in the 1950s, Edith Clark was the organist.
Myers recalled that if there was a funeral at the church some of the girls from the school would walk to the church and sing at the funeral and then walk back to school. The church was deeded to the Village of Bell Center in October of 1969.
Soon after the special meeting was held, donations of money and supplies started pouring into the village to be used for the ‘church project.’ Those donations included a very large donation from a family in California, who own property near Bell Center.
The village board unanimously voted at their next regular meeting to approve the plan and the church project was off and running.
Volunteers showed up to work and the first thing to be done was deep cleaning, which began with shoveling out debris that had collected on the floor. The project was well supported with volunteers and donations.
The group completed work to clean and paint the windows including the large ones, storm windows were installed, dusting and refurbishing the pews, railings were added to the existing porch, the outhouse was repaired, baseboard electric heaters were installed and repairs were made to the bell tower.
Foundation and electrical work was hired out.
The old pump organ was still in the building. After volunteers cleaned it up, it was turned on. To everyone’s surprise and delight, the organ still worked well and was still in tune.
The group hired an electrician to replace the fuse box in the church building. Later after the electrician’s work was complete, Starr Myers ran into him at the store.
“You didn’t send us a bill for the electrical work that you did.” Starr said to him.
“I must have forgotten, and if you ask me to send another one, I will forget again,” the electrician told her.
The building has been lovingly brought back to life with hopes of keeping it in the Bell Center community as a cherished memory and a useful gathering spot.
Jeff and Jeanne Christie cut an evergreen tree from their property. It was brought to the church building and decorated for Christmas. Wreaths embellish the front doors.
The church with a fresh new look awaits future use. Perhaps it will become the place for small weddings or other get-togethers.
There is still work to be done. Though the committee has never asked for donations, they will be gratefully accepted. Donations can be sent to the Village of Bell Center with ‘church project’ in the memo of the check.
In the spring of 2021, the committee plans to do some repairs to the plaster and the bell tower.More about the Bell Center Methodist Church and other Bell Center history can be seen on the Facebook page Bell Center Stories and Memories.