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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • A church in transition for 150 years

  • The First Presbyterian Church of Rolla will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a public reception in the church fellowship hall Saturday, May 17, from 3-5:30 p.m. All are welcome.
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  • The First Presbyterian Church of Rolla will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a public reception in the church fellowship hall Saturday, May 17, from 3-5:30 p.m. All are welcome.
    Key speakers Dr. Mark Stauter, from the Phelps County Historical Society, and former pastor Larry Boutelle will begin their talks at 4 p.m. Former pastor Miles White will also attend.
    Both pastors will join current pastor John Oerter in the celebration worship service Sunday, May 18, at 9:45 a.m.
    The history
    On May 15, 1864, when the Civil War was ongoing, a small group gathered to worship in the old Phelps County Courthouse. After the service in which the Rev. A. T. Norton preached on I Corinthians 9:24-27, they met and formed the First Presbyterian Church of Rolla. Just a small group of 12 — seven women and five men — constituted the beginning of this Christian church and the charter membership of this congregation.
    After five years, the church edifice on Olive and Sixth streets was built and the group met, worshiped, prayed and grew there. Many of the ministers serving the church over those first 80 years stayed for  short periods of time — some only three months, many a year or less. One pastor stayed 12 years.  Despite those many leadership transitions, the Presbyterian Church continued to grow, eventually adding an educational wing to the little church in 1942.
    Under the leadership of the Rev. Scott Porter, growth prompted the plans for the present building at 919 10th St. In 1962, after consulting with St. Louis architects, the cornerstone was laid for what the Rolla Daily News claimed was a “modernistic” church building.
    Unlike other churches built in the previous years, no single spire marked the peak topped with a bell tower. Rather the design was like an inverted boat. Like Noah’s ark its central beam sloped up toward the sky, instead of down into the water.  
    At the building’s dedication on April 28, 1963, then Missouri Gov. John M. Dalton and seven ministers participated in the program. The struggle to support the cost of this building spurred a stewardship campaign headed by William Mueller for whose wife, Martha, the present bell tower was given and named.
    After the retirement of Porter in 1968 and installation of Warren Rutledge as pastor, growth continued but not without challenges. In 1971 lightning struck the roof, the building suffered significant damage and more expenses were incurred.
    The original used-organ was destroyed. After significant controversy, the church opted for a new Wicks pipe organ for $25,000 plus interest.
    After a newsworthy 100th anniversary celebration, Muriel Hatfield was hired by the church in 1964 as organist and choir director. She served during the ’80s under pastor Wes Schlotzhaur and his associate youth pastor, Larry Boutelle.
    Page 2 of 2 - Her years of service ended in 1990 when Jeff Sandquist was hired to direct the choir. Sandquist served under seven different pastors — Hugh Stewart, interim Cheryl Montgomery, Miles White, interim John Nipper, Lee Jennings, interim Gary Stratman and present interim John Oerter.
    Hatfield continued to play with several other organists including Susie Schmidt and Marilyn Pogue.
    Many organists served First Presbyterian in the years to follow, including Robert Hachmeister, Michael Brummels, the late Terry Brunner, the late Susie Schmidt, Joan Murray, Kathy Mazzeo and presently Lorie Francis.
    As many traditional churches have suffered from declining membership in the last three decades, so has the Presbyterian Church of Rolla. However an emphasis on fine music has still been possible under Sandquist.
    In celebrating the ministry of music the church had a reunion choir of 26 members including former pastors in October and a benefit concert in March in which students of Sandquist and Hatfield returned to perform with flair.
    Significant contributions of this congregation to the community include many years of Valentine luncheons from the ’40s to the ’90s. The Presbyterian Women have sponsored Lenten Lunches since 1982.
    The initial organization of Local Organization for Various Emergencies (LOVE), the predecessor of GRACE, began with the Presbyterian Deacon board. The church also has given Boy Scout Troop 183 continuous support since 1926.
    The Presbyterian Preschool co-op program initiated in the ’70s has grown to an extended day preschool now directed by Candace Ludden. Building use also has included Head Start, Crippled Children’s Clinic, AA, Community Linen Closet and Rolla Choral Arts Society.

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