A (Not so Brief) History of the Chapel
The Visionary Years...1973 - 1974
The founding of the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes is a story of faith, hope and love taking shape in our world. The congregation was founded through the visionary leadership of Presbyterians from rural northeast Indiana who were seeking a way that they could be faithful to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
Northeast area Presbyterian congregations that were members of the newly formed and enlarged Wabash Valley Presbytery would regularly meet in smaller clusters known as "Presbits" to plan mission and ministry in their local areas. And at one such gathering in March of 1973 the representatives of the Salem Center Presbyterian Church, led by their supply pastor Rev. Paul Hopwood and Elder Ed Dudley proposed that the Presbit begin an "Angola Project" to reach out to students at Tri State College, known today as Trine University.
This initial proposal was turned down for funding, but when the project was revised as an outreach to the resort community in and around the lakes of Steuben County it was approved later that same year in September 1973 for funding support. Elder Ed Dudley who spearheaded the effort to develop this project was appointed the chairman of a Presbit sub-committee and told "to set up detailed guidelines for development of mission in the Angola area – namely resort crowd and college campus ministry," and to bring this fuller outline of the proposed mission to the January 22nd meeting of the Mission Committee of the Presbytery of Wabash Valley at the Geneva Center in Rochester, IN.
Serving on the Presbit sub-committee along with Elder Ed Dudley were the following individuals: Elder Mary Fultz of the Salem Center Presbyterian Church; Elder Chester Quear of the First Presbyterian Church of Albion, IN; Rev. Paul Hopwood of the Salem Center Presbyterian Church; and Rev. Terry Timsom of the Lima Presbyterian Church in Howe, IN.
The "Angola Project" was originally conceived as a new church development whose general purpose was to create a "place of worship for Presbyterians and other interested persons who are away from their home church, persons on vacation, local residents and college students." It targeted as its strategic location a "plot located adjunct to I-69 and central to the lakes area" near the Crooked Lake Exit.
The revised proposal was approved by the Presbytery's Mission Committee for funding in the late winter of 1974. The Presbytery of Wabash Valley's Mission Committee committed $12,000.00 for the project over the next four (4) years, and with the commitment of these funds the "Angola Project" was formally launched.
Elder Ed Dudley began recruiting members of the Salem Center Presbyterian Church along with help from area congregations in the Presbit to assist him in launching the project by summer of 1974. He presented the project to the Salem Center Presbyterian Church in April 1974 and several of the congregation's members stayed after the service to learn more about the project and to offer their help.
One of the first tasks was to locate a suitable site for hosting a summer worship service as a way to reach out to the seasonal lake community retirees and the many weekend summer visitors. Assisting Mr. Dudley in the search was his wife, Helen Dudley, along with Ed and Mary Fultz and Ben and Virginia Jones.
On a car ride to look at a ten (10) acre farm that was for sale near Orland, Elders Ed and Helen Dudley along with Elder Mary Fultz drove by a strategically sited but much neglected old brick schoolhouse on the corner of CR 300 W and the Orland Road leading towards Lake Gage. These two (2) roads split between several of the area lakes: Crooked Lake to the south and west; Jimmerson Lake to the north and west; Lake James to the north and east; and Lake Gage and Lime Lake to the west. It was literally the hub of the wheel with spokes pointing out in all direction to the area lakes.
The property on which the schoolhouse was located was known as the old Miller farm and it was owned by Mr. John McLaughlin who also owned a boat farm business across the road called Nauta Lease. He had no objections to the schoolhouse being used for summer worship services and accepted the cleaning up the lot and building as a fair exchange in lieu of a $50/month rental fee that first year for the use of the facility.
The old brick schoolhouse had been abandoned for years. Its plate embedded high up under its north gable bore the legend "District #8, 1886," indicating when was built. Each township trustee was responsible to provide schools within a walking distance of no more than three (3) miles for students, and to staff them with a teacher. Students were taught a standard curriculum and graduated at grade eight (8) by passing a comprehensive test. In celebration of their achievement, they would often carve their initials into one of the schoolhouse bricks. Those students who wished to continue their education beyond this had to go to the one (1) high school in the county, which was located in Angola.
A one-room school education was the tradition up until the end of the 1930's, at which time the townships abandoned their one-room schools throughout the county and consolidated their budgets to support larger schools that were located in the communities across the county such as Orland, Fremont, Salem Center, Helmer, etc., each of which had their own high schools as well.
As a result, the old brick schoolhouse was left to the ravages of time and now was in much disrepair. A grove of sassafras saplings and brush surrounded the schoolhouse and poison ivy climbed its exterior walls. In its abandoned state it had been used as a storage barn by Mr. Guy Miller who had farmed the ground around it for years. On the north end of the building a large hole had been busted out approximately twenty (20) feet wide and fifteen (15) feet high in order to store farm equipment in the schoolhouse. The windows were all broken and the bell tower was in need of repair.
Inside the schoolhouse birds were nesting and it smelled of mold. The elevated floorboards had long rotted away, leaving the sawed off ends of the waist high stringers dangling over the dirt floor embedded along the side walls in the bare rock foundation. Blackboards were still attached on three (3) of the side walls of the room above the walnut wainscoting. The foundation was made of stone and was stable and strong even though you could see daylight between some of them.2
Volunteers, largely from the Salem Center congregation but also including others from the surrounding Presbit congregations, cleared the grounds and cleaned the building beginning in the middle of May 1974 in preparation for holding summer worship services. Jennie Safford and her family helped clear the grove of brush and piled it for a bonfire. They were helped by Bob and Byrdena Boots, Ed and Marge Weimer, Ed and Helen Dudley, the Ken Claudy family, and several others.
Gravel for a floor in the schoolhouse was hauled and spread by Jack Clark. A pallet of new brick was delivered by Ed Fultz to seal up the exposed north end, but the brick were stolen and so the Ken Claudy family donated a load of used bricks in their place. Ed Dudley hung translucent fiberglass panels to serve as windows and placed wooden battens in the form of a cross in each window.
The Ervin Tilbury family repaired the bell tower and Ben Jones and Allen Boots installed a new bell that was donated by Guy Miller.
By the end of May 1974 a new cement floor had been poured and an old set of double doors from the Salem Center church had been framed and set into the new north wall where bricks were beginning to rise to fill the gaping hole there. Bruce Fultz completed laying the brick above the door frame toward summer's end.
A second exit for fire safety had to be cut out of the south wall before the services could be held in the building, and this task was finally accomplished at 6:00 am on the Sunday on which the
first service was held. All of this work was done by Ed Fultz with help from his sons Ian and Bruce, with help from also from young Mike Holden, son of Keith and Lila Holden.
The first worship service was held on June 2, 1974 with about twenty (20) attendees, mostly from the Salem Center church, along with several song sparrows from the surrounding community.
The Rev. Paul Hopwood preached that first summer and for the next three (3) summers after that. He would drive up from his home in New Castle, IN where he worked full-time as a social worker, but he spent his weekends at his lake cottage and served the Salem Center congregation as a temporary/part-time supply.
Ms. Jane Jones, widow of Rev. John Jones who had served as minister for the Salem Center Presbyterian Church for thirty-four (34) years, retiring in 1956 and passing away in 1968, played the organ each Sunday until she relocated in December 1985 to the Peabody Home in North Manchester, IN.
Sunday services were held from Memorial Day to Labor Day as week by week the old schoolhouse was in the process of being transformed into a worship chapel. A youth group from the First Presbyterian Church in Albion, IN came in early July of 1974 to paint the interior plaster and ceiling white.
The young people who scraped and painted were Leonard Phelps, Karen Zimmerman, Steve Dixon, Kim Dean, Clint Reed, Mary Patterson, Julie Dickerson, Susan Armstrong and Arlynn Feightner.
Their efforts greatly improved and brightened the interior space. The schoolhouse had lost all of its gloom and now had a fresh, clean look and smell.
People spontaneously provided additional improvements as the summer went along. An outhouse was set up in the yard by Sylvia Ringler. Folding chairs were donated from the First Presbyterian Church of Garrett. Hymnals were donated from the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia City. Art and Adeline Hettema donated pews, a pulpit and a baptismal font that they purchased at a "Chinese Auction" from the First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso, IN. A pump organ and a second pulpit were donated from the First Presbyterian Church of Ligonier, IN. A minister's chair was donated from the Lima Presbyterian Church in Howe, IN. Mrs. John McBride from Lima, OH who had a cottage on Lake Gage made and donated a green and gold wall banner that said "Sing to the Lord" to hang in the schoolhouse.
On the last Sunday service that first summer season the congregation gathered and celebrated communion for the first time. The average attendance that first summer was thirty-nine (39), and 159 different people signed the guest book that first year.
The missional vision to reach out to lake residents in Steuben County was a clear success due to the missional vision of the members of the Salem Center Presbyterian Church led by Elder Ed & Helen Dudley, along with encouragement and support of the surrounding Presbyterian
congregations of the Presbit and the strategic financial support of the Presbytery of Wabash Valley Mission Committee.
The Foundational Years...1975 - 1985
Over the next several few years the summer worship services continued to be organized and led by the congregational leadership of the Salem Center Presbyterian Church. Elder Ed Dudley was the Chairman and his wife Helen the Treasurer, with Elder Mary Fultz as Secretary and Elder Ken Claudy as the Vice-Chairman. Others from Salem Center congregation who served on the "Operating Committee" to oversee the "Chapel of the Lakes" mission as it was then called were Bob Armstrong, Virginia Jones, Bob & Iola Daily, Jack Clark, Ed Weimer, Irwin Tilbury, Sylvia Ringler, and Jane Jones.
Each year a rummage sale was held for the benefit of the Chapel, and organizing meetings were hosted at the homes of Ed & Helen Dudley and Ed & Mary Fultz to develop the mission further. Publicity was by radio announcements and newspaper articles. Volunteers provided special music from time to time, including Mr. Emil Taflinger and Mrs. Wayne Wickliffe and her daughter Susie.
At a picnic meeting of the Presbit held on August 13, 1976 it was proposed that the ministry in Steuben County begun with the Chapel be expanded to included a Sunday and Wednesday evening outreach to Presbyterian students at Tri State College, a youth outreach using the abandoned Salem Center school, a senior citizen ministry, a preschool/daycare to be housed at the Salem Center church, a coffee house to be located in a barn, and a radio ministry.
While many of these ministries did not come to fruition, the more important fact to note is that the missional vision that had launched the Chapel was now expanding and enlarging its scope. It was alive and growing, even though the direction its growth eventually took was not as originally conceived at this meeting.
At an evening of September 16, 1976 the Presbit met for a picnic at the Chapel to further discuss and plan its future. A new "Angola Mission Foundation" was established to accomplish the wider mission outlined earlier the previous month. Rev. Hopwood was to be the director of the mission and Miss Lin Wilson was to be his assistant. But with Rev. Hopwood's relocation to New York in 1977 the future direction and leadership of this young mission was left largely in the hands of Elder Ed Dudley.
With Rev. Hopwood's relocation to New York in 1977, Rev. Harold Olson served as interim pastor for the Salem Center congregation through the summer of 1978 until the Rev. Jack Newell arrived later that same year.
Rev. Jack and his wife Dorothy Newell learned of the vacancy at the Salem Center Presbyterian Church and responded to the call to help develop her outreach ministry to the lake residents of Steuben County through their long friendship with Elders Ed & Helen Dudley with whom they had shared together in ministry when they both lived in Oak Park, IL years earlier.
In a letter postmarked June 30, 1978 Elder Ed Dudley with characteristic wit and understatement wrote to Rev. Newell in these words:
"News Flash! Salem Center, a church in a rural area is looking for a minister. Due to the location and the high level of challenge, thought you might be interested!"
And in the same letter, Helen added these additional words:
"Our church here is at an interesting point. Ed's on the pulpit committee and Jim on session. You better come and give us a lift! Chapel services are quite exciting!"
The enthusiasm of Ed and Helen for the ministry opportunity at Salem Center, most especially the outreach of the Chapel of the Lakes, was contagious and indeed Rev. Newell and Dorothy bought a home on Hogback Lake and were soon on the field and beginning a very fruitful time of ministry together.
During these foundational years the Chapel was becoming noticed by the community at large also. For example, in recognition of the improvements made to the schoolhouse the Indiana Farm Bureau gave the Chapel its state award in a ceremony on February 15, 1978 at its annual women's conference. A plaque indicating this award now hangs proudly in the schoolhouse as you enter by the south door.
Other important milestones of note during these years were the first wedding and the first baptism held at the Chapel. The community was beginning to recognize this schoolhouse as a very charming site and saw in her renewed image as a Chapel a place to celebrate the momentous transitions of life.
The first wedding celebrated at the Chapel was on Saturday, June 4, 1977. The groom's name was David A. Barnard and the bride's name was Pamela A. Calvin. A visiting Baptist minister, Rev. Robert Hedrick officiated.
The first baptism at the Chapel was celebrated on Sunday, August 8, 1976. The child's name was Carolyn Sarah McBride, daughter of John and Margaret McBride who were serving in a Baptist church in McCormick, South Carolina and visiting his parents on Lake Gage, Dr. John and Betty McBride.
And it was during these foundational years that the Salem Center Presbyterian Church purchased the three (3) acres of land on which the schoolhouse sat. Through a bridge loan made by Elder Ed Dudley to the Salem Center congregation, they had been able to purchased about three (3) acres of land across the road from the schoolhouse with the thought being that this land would be a better site on which to build a new facility. But after working so hard to restore the schoolhouse and after realizing its genuine charm as well as its relatively low maintenance, the sold the property across the street and used the proceeds of that sale to purchase the Chapel property. The three (3) acre site was purchased from John McLaughlin for $10,000.00 in 1977.
Chapel attendance had steadily climbed over these years, from an average of thirty-eight (38) in 1975 to fifty-three (53) in 1976 to sixty-seven (67) in 1977. In 1978 the decision was made to hold services year-round for those who lived in the lake community, and with Rev. Newell's arrival the vision of the Chapel's ministry began to evolve into more than just a summer outreach ministry. A new church development began to be seen as possible and groundwork began to be laid for that larger future.
The missional spirit of the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes was captured by one of the weekend attendees who became one of the foundational leaders of the Chapel's ministry in subsequent years, Elder Ray Bodie. Ray gave a memorable rendition of the schoolhouse's transformation into a summer worship center one Sunday in 1978. He came dressed in Victorian era clothes and became the personification of the schoolhouse in the character he created called "Charlie." He titled his presentation "To Be Born Again," which is how he described what had happened to this little rural schoolhouse.
Good morning! I would like to introduce myself. I'm Charlie, the little brick schoolhouse. My official name is Crooked Lake Schoolhouse, No. 8. This person is Ray Bodie. I finally caught up with him in Fostoria, Ohio and got his attention while he was traveling between jobs. Like so many people, he enjoys me on Sunday morning but hardly knows me during the week. Anyway, after getting Ray's attention, I made him promise that some Sunday I could use his person and voice to talk to you. So, here I am!
Boy, what a beautiful morning! Do you mind if I stretch? You know I am 92, going strong towards 93, and every morning, rain or shine, seems better than the last when you get my age. Yes, I was built in 1886 along with several other cousins in the area. One of the, the Collins Schoolhouse just about 5 miles north of here down that road has been restored and looks just like it did in the old days. You should stop and see it some Sunday afternoon.
Well, anyway, back to me. As I said, I was built in 1886. When I was completed I have to admit, I was really quite a sharp looking schoolhouse and was really proud of myself. God finally got my attention and said,
'Charlie, after you quit admiring yourself, this is what I want you to do with your life. First, I want you to use your building as a place to teach the young people in the area. Then I want you to open your doors, whenever possible and become an active part of this community.'
Now that's quite a challenge but I worked hard at it and was kept busy. Not only did I open my doors for the young people as a school, but for church and Sunday school meetings and you name it. I have to say that it wasn't long before the community sort of revolved around my doors.
You have to admit that I am located on one of the busiest crossroads in Steuben County. I often thought I should have written a book about all the things I have seen happen while sitting here along this busy intersection. I remember, at first, it was just people walking or riding horseback, or in a buggy. Then one day, I'll never forget it, I heard this strange noise. I strained my neck to try and see what was happening and all of a sudden this queer noisy thing was headed my way. It had four wheels, a man riding on it, and not one horse pulling it. Well, later after all the excitement settled down I found out it was a horseless carriage, or automobile. As time went by I began to see more of these noisy cars and fewer and fewer horses and buggies.
Then one day they had a big meeting that changed my life. They decided that with school buses they could pick up all the children in the area and take them to the larger schools in Angola, Orland, Pleasant Lake and Fremont. Well, when they did this, that was about the end for many of my cousins and myself and I was feeling mighty blue. But thank God for the Crooked Lake Ladies Aide Society! They were a very active group and continued to use my building for meetings, dinners and socials. I was kept fairly busy.
Then I heard a rumor that they wanted to buy me, but one morning I got the surprise of my life. I found out that Guy Miller, a farmer close by, bought me for $300.00 and intended to use my building for storage of farm machinery. Well, I'll never forget that day!
The day they came over and knocked out my front wall so they could move farm machinery in I was bruised for weeks. As the years went by I became more disappointed, felt rejected as well as dejected and really thought God had forgotten me. Then one morning just as I was at low ebb and about to throw in the sponge God called to me: 'Charlie! Charlie! It sort of scared me because I had not heard his voice or talked to God for a long time. 'Charlie, quit brooding and feeling sorry for yourself. Perk up, I've got a new job for you.' I gave him my closest attention.
'Charlie, there is a little church over here about 12 miles Salem Center Presbyterian Church to be exact. That church is looking for a local mission program. They feel there is a need for a place near the lakes where summer visitors can worship in a short simple service and come dressed as they want. Charlie, you know I 'm all for that, so I encouraged them and they are on their way over here to start repairs on your building. They want to give you a new name: The Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes. Charlie, I expect you to do your best.'
Thank God to be born again! I was on cloud nine!
These men and women came over and poured a new floor, new steps, gave me a new front and back door, bricked up the big hole in my front wall, cleaned and painted my inside, fixed up my yard and you name it. Hey, when they finished I felt fifty years younger. Next they brought some kerosene lamps, chairs, a beautiful pump organ, hymnals, and I was ready.
The response to their efforts was unbelievable. These last few years have been the happiest years of my life watching this Chapel of the Lakes grow. This summer there has been close to 100 people here every Sunday!
This morning, with all my joys and happiness, I want to thank those men and women of the Salem Center Presbyterian Church who made this Chapel possible. They conceived the idea, and then with lots of hard work, time and energy restored me and brought to reality what I am today.
I think there is a real lesson in this story. So many times we look for far off distant places as a place for God's work and mission. Really, many times we practically break our necks stumbling over opportunities awaiting in our own backyard. Well, Salem Center didn't! They saw the need and did something about it. I don't want to embarrass anyone, but those of you who were part of this project, please stand up so the others here will know who made this Chapel possible.
As I think of the old run down schoolhouse that I once was and now through your efforts what I am today, I thank each and every one of you and pray to God that you continue to support this program so visitors in Steuben County can come through my doors and worship God, the Father of all things.
I think one amusing thing I have watched this summer is how a long time Methodist minister decided to help this Presbyterian Chapel. It just goes to show you are never too late to be converted!
In closing, I have one request. Would you sing 'Rise Up, O Men of God.' When this congregation sings, it just makes my plaster quiver! Thanks again for my new life and God bless you!