A GLANCE AT THE PAST
We left our church family in January of 1940 struggling with two major concerns – neither of which they had any immediate chance of solving. The first was our church’s huge mortgage debt, acquired back in 1927 during construction of our building. Since that time our country, including our town of Girard, had been wracked by the greatest depression in its history, marked by many bank failures, massive unemployment and cuts in wages for those who still had jobs. The depression, which began in the fall of 1929, still continued as it went into its eleventh year. The result for our church family was simply to try to reduce the church debt, and that, too, was a mighty struggle.
The other concern was a much newer one: the war in Europe. German submarines were sinking ships in the Atlantic whether they carried freight or innocent passengers. One Girard boy, returning home from England with his mother on the British Passenger Liner Athenia, had died when that ship was sunk at the beginning of September. The teenage boy, Arthur Fisher, held the dubious distinction of being one of the first civilian casualties of what would be a very long and awful war. Fortunately, in early 1940, our church family did not know just how long and how affected they would be by that war. The United States in 1940 had declared its neutrality, and Girard people were just watching the news warily.
In reporting on the life of our church seventy-five years ago, I am, as always, indebted to The Girard News, Girard’s weekly newspaper, available on microfilm at the Girard Free Library. Unfortunately, the issues of that newspaper for the first half of February, 1940, are missing. I couldn’t find much in our own archives for early February, so I went searching on line, to see what folks might have been talking about, besides the weather. One item caught my attention. You may remember that when I was reporting on Girard happenings back in April of 1939, the movie Snow White, Walt Disney’s first feature movie-length cartoon, came to play at Girard’s movie theatre, and aroused great excitement. This culminated in a city-wide “dandelion eradication contest”, sponsored by Mrs. John Powers, Chairwoman of the Dandelion Removal Committee of Girard Garden Club, and Peter Wellman, owner of the theatre. Each child who turned in 300 picked dandelions to his teacher would receive a free pass to the movie. The response was so huge that an extra showing of Snow White was held to accommodate all the children who received free passes. I was reminded of this memorable day in Girard when I read that Walt Disney’s next full-length cartoon, Pinocchio, opened the first week of February in New York City. The New York Times reviewer stated that the new movie was “as gay and clever and delightful a fantasy as any well-behaved youngster or jaded oldster could hope to see.” If the movie opened in New York in early February, and the time frame was the same as it was for Snow White, it would conceivably get to Girard in May or early June. If I were a third or fourth grade kid back then, I would be hoping for another dandelion picking contest. I never did hear if the first contest resulted in a diminution of dandelions. But it was fun to think of it again.
The first available issue of the Girard News of February, 1940, is that of Friday, February 16th. It reported that on the previous Friday, Feb. 9th, the First Christian Church had hosted a joint World Day of Prayer Service with over 100 attending. Our Rev. Hilberry, along with pastors from the other churches, each spoke briefly. The main speakers were Rev. Monroe Duffie and Miss Emily Fox of the Rebecca Williams Home in Warren.
From our own archives, the Official Board met on February 12, 1940. Mr. Howells presided. The meeting opened with prayer by Rev. Hilberry. The Financial Secretary’s report was given by Mr. Crider. The motion was made that bills payable be done as monies became available. Mr. Howells reported for the Trustees, that railings had been bought, to be installed when weather permitted. Mr. Howells also gave the financial report for the Trustees. He reported that the church’s total indebtedness was now down to $40,000 with $4,000 of that having been accomplished in the past two years. I believe this had to be good news, that debt reduction was occurring at a faster pace than had occurred in the early thirties. Mr. Howells also discussed the Janitor Committee and indicated that he wished to resign from that committee. The motion was made and passed that his resignation be accepted. There was no mention in the minutes of what was discussed about the Janitor Committee or why he wished to resign from it. Rev. Hilberry then made the Pastor’s report, and, there being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.
Two days later, Wednesday, was Valentine’s Day, and the News reported that a deep snow hit the city of Girard that day, slowing traffic and inconveniencing everyone. I remember deep snows back in the day before we had snow blowers and lawn tractor mounted plows. My Dad had to hand shovel out the drive before he could head out to work, and if there was more snow accumulation when we got home from school, we were sent out to do what we could. I always felt that the gas powered snow blower along with its summer cousin, the gas powered lawn mower, were two of the most important inventions of the last century. My feeling was probably influenced by growing up as the oldest child in a family with a large lot and a long driveway.
On Sunday, February 18th, Rev. Hilberry’s sermon was entitled, “Is Any Man Thirsty?” At the Sunday evening service, the choir, under the direction of its new Director, offered a musical service that featured eight hymns.
The last Sunday in February, the 25th, Rev. Hilberry spoke on “A Colony of Heaven”. At the evening service, Rev. Robert G. Morris of Centenary Methodist Church spoke on “Methodism’s Involvement in the Negro”.
I have been writing this “Glance” article on the day that our country honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which at least partially accounts for the amazement I find in seeing a title for an address such as the above, describing our church’s “involvement” with the “Negro”, making some members of our human race sound like a kind of rare exotic. I know we still have a significant distance to travel toward achieving brotherhood, but comparing our way of speaking to and about each other now to the use of the “N” word commonly heard as I was growing up, makes me think that gas powered snow blowers weren’t the only thing that is better today. That was our church, seventy-five years ago in February of 1940.