The Presbyterian Church Along the Highway, Dexter, Iowa

I wasn’t interested in history when my family attended the Presbyterian Church in Dexter. I wish I had been. I didn’t know until decades later that my Great Great Grandmother Rhoda (Marshall) Neal attended there, from the time it became a congregation in 1868–150 years ago. The same year Dexter became a town.

The handsome church along the  highway was built in 1907. Rhoda’s son O.S. and wife Nellie also brought their children there–Keith, Kenneth (Grandpa), M.M., and Marjorie.

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Back: Keith, Nellie, and O.S. Neal. Front: Maurice, Marjorie, and Kenneth.

I don’t know whether Blohms went to church there, but Ruby Blohm attended Christian Endeavor there. She and Kenneth Neal were married in the Presbyterian manse in 1916. Kenneth liked to sing. He was in a quartet called the Methaquakaterians. Kenneth and Ruby’s 50th Anniversary celebration was held in the church basement in 1966.

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My parents, Warren and Doris (Wilson) Neal were married in the church in 1943. Warren’s sister Nadine played the pump organ and sister Betty Neal Wells sang a solo. For the recessional, Nadine played the Air Force Song that starts, “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder.”

 

The four oldest grandchildren of Kenneth and Ruby Neal–Joy Neal, Vincent Wells, Judith Neal, and Susan Shepherd–were baptized February 10, 1946. According to the church bulletin dated a week later, one woman remarked, “This would not happen” in any church in perhaps not in one hundred years.”

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On Easter Sunday, March 28, 1948, four more cousins were baptized–Jane Neal, Gloria Neal, Kenny Shepherd, and Patty Wells.

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Sunday School was held in the church basement, with the sun streaming down into those south windows. “I Would be a Little Sunbeam” was a song I remember. Sitting on those little bentwood chairs, I didn’t know that my mother (and probably my father) sang Sunday School songs on those same little chairs.

 

Irene Scott’s Bible School class was evidently especially memorable for me, maybe because we made a diorama of a Bible scene using clothespin figures. Mom helped with Bible School each summer. I enjoyed helping with Bible School (especially the Hurst boys) when I was in high school.

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Bible School 1950. Back: Dean Lank, Beverly McMenamin, Norma Jean Fink, Jimmy Freedline, Carol Fleisher. Middle: Vincent Wells, Judy Neal, Jimmy Fleischer, Bruce Atherton, Bonnie Burkhead, Joy Neal, Susan Shepherd (behind). Front: Danny McMenamin, Gloria Neal, Kenny Shepherd, Sandra Grant, Jane Neal, Patty Wells

The sanctuary has lovely stained glass windows, especially the large one picturing the Bible on the east side.

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And the ceiling is fascinating, soaring higher and higher in the center. The pulpit area has large gold cross on the wall with a circle or halo representing the Risen Christ, with a large wooden chair on each side. The office and the rope to the belfry is in the round room behind the pulpit.

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This picture of the Summer ’70 Singers shows the cross in the church sanctuary.

 

Because the church had so many farm families, it was hard for the adults to keep a choir going, so Aunt Nadine Shepherd–who played the pump organ and the piano–started a youth choir, which became the main choir for several years. Grandpa Kenneth Neal always like counting how many grandchildren were in the choir. I remember singing “The Beatitudes” and being part of Roma Walker’s wedding.

At Christmastime, the youth choir wore short white cotton surplices with dickies, which billowed out (along with our skirts) as we crossed over the furnace grate while we sang “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” marching to the choir loft. At the end of the service, everyone lit candles as we sang “Silent Night.”

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Choir loft, in our surplices and dickies. Back: Bruce Atherton, Vince Wells, Joy Neal, Susan Shepherd, Judy Neal, Bonnie Johnson, Bob Cook, Jane Neal. Front: Gloria Neal, Dixie Thomas, Sandra Grant, Carolyn Cunningham, Patty Wells, Kenny Shepherd, Glenn Heckman.

We’d exchange gifts with our Sunday School teachers. One year I got a white plastic cross that glows in the dark. I still have it. Marie Atherton made sparkling star candles for each of us one year. Another year she gave us girls a silver chain with a large marble-sized green charm with the Golden Rule printed around it in white. I still have mine. (I don’t know what the boys got!)

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Then Santa would arrived, with sacks of candy and peanuts in the shell.

Dad, Warren Neal, was our SS teacher when I was in junior high. Since I’ve been on Facebook, several younger people let me know how much they enjoyed having Dad as their Sunday School teacher. He served in several capacities in the church. Mom was treasurer of the women’s group, which was especially challenging when they held dinners. We girls also helped serve those dinners in the basement–Memorial Day (always on May 30) and Father-Son Banquets. (Mother-Daughter Banquets were held at the Methodist Church.)

Phyllis Piatt taught our SS class when we were in high school. One Easter Sunday we had a sunrise service in the cemetery, once while it was snowing. Several of us played our horns. Afterwards, Phillis treated us to brunch at her house–bacon and eggs cups baked in muffin tins and cinnamon rolls.

When we got older, our pastor Bob Hollway taught Catechism class on Saturday mornings. I enjoyed taking notes and learning an overview of the Bible and its history. He assigned taking notes during his sermons, which we were to hand in. That helped curb cousin whispering in the choir loft. A little.

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Communicants Class graduation 1959. Back: Judy Neal, Susan Shepherd, Vince Wells, Rev. Bob Holloway. Middle: Joy Neal, Bonnie Johnson, Jane Neal. Front: Kenny Shepherd, Dan McMenamin, Sandra Grant, Patty Wells, Gloria Neal.

Aunt Nadine was going to have a new baby in 1961, so she made sure Cousin Judy and I could take over at the pump organ for her for awhile.

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Not a good picture but shows Aunt Nadine (at right), our choir director, organist, and pianist. The pump organ is right in front. Back: ____, Bruce Atherton, Charles Soper, Bonnie Johnson, Judy Neal, Susan Shepherd, ____. Front: Danny McMenamin, Glenn Heckman, ____, Kenny Shepherd, Jane Neal, ____, ____, Gloria Neal.

When my husband Guy was in Vietnam, I moved back to the folks’ from Idaho. The Presbyterian women were making new cloths for the communion table. I did the hand-stitching on the white one.

Since we’ve lived in Iowa again, we’d attend Christmas Eve services with Mom, which always ended with singing Silent Night with everyone holding a candle, circling the sanctuary.  Afterwards was like a family reunion–with people we grew up with at that historic church.

 

2 comments

  1. Another great story.  My goodness, 100 years that church has stood.  Is it still there?   I recognize you and Gloria when you were very young.  I guess you two have not changed that much.

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    • 150 years, same as the town of Dexter! And I just realized that Great Grandmother Laura Goff was born 150 years ago the end of September, so today I worked on a piece about her that will post on her birthday. How I wish I’d been smart enough to ask her some questions about her history! She was still living when we graduated from high school! She died that fall.

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