DIVE INTO OUR PAST
Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church
of Dolores, Colorado - History
Methodism began at Oxford University of England in 1729 where John Wesley and a few young men met for intellectual and religious discussions, hoping to become better Christians. These meetings resulted in the first organization of the Methodist Society in 1739. The name Methodist derived from the fact that Wesley was so systematic and methodical in his thinking and manner. The term was not self-applied, rather, it was used in a derogatory manner by people outside the group.
The meetings of these men did not begin with the promise of organizing a new church or in trying to start a new denomination. They simply wanted to improve their own lives and help others in the process. These men hoped to learn the word of God and prayed for guidance.
The first American Methodist Society organized was the St. John’s in New York City. The oldest operating Methodist Church in the United States is the St. George United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. The first annual conference was held there in 1773.
In 1861 Colorado was part of the Kansas Conference. On July 10, 1863 the Rocky Mountain Conference was organized. The oldest Methodist building in Colorado is the St. James Church in Central City.
The first Methodist minister in southwestern Colorado was appointed in 1874. His circuit was out of Howards Ville, northeast of Silverton. A few years later ministers were appointed to Lake City and Ouray. Their circuits included all the mining camps nearby. In 1880 ministers were appointed to Gunnison, Animas City and Pagosa Springs. The Reverend Oscar Sensbaugh was appointed to Durango. Sensbaugh was the first Methodist to preach at Rico in 1881. Ministers traveled long distances on horseback to cover all the communities in their circuits.
In the early 1900’s the farming regions of Cortez, Lewis, Lebanon and Dolores were all part of a circuit. The first congregations were in Cortez and Dolores. Missionary money was received to support both congregations.
The early Methodists in Dolores first met as a Sunday school in the school building where the old Dolores State Bank building was on 6th street (it is now the bank parking lot).The first staff for the Sunday school was: D. M. Longenbaugh – superintendent, Fred Kramer – treasurer, Miss Ollie Wilber – secretary, Miss Louisa Ordway – organist, Miss Louie Pyle, Carroll Pyle and Miss Louisa Ordway – teachers. Mrs. Lena Bear donated her organ which was moved to the school to provide music for services. The need for a church building was apparent but nothing happened for a few years. The Sunday school continued to operate in the school building.
The first minister in Dolores, Sylvanus Schwerzmann, was appointed in 1904. The first official board members of the church were: Charles and Lena Bear, Mrs. E. Blair, Mrs. Alice Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Porter (Mary Johnson’s daughter) Mr. and Mrs. George Wiltsie and Mary Johnson.
Apparently there was a falling out between the Dolores church and Rev. Schwerzmann, and it remains a mystery. The reverend not only left the Dolores church, he left the ministry as well. The only comment on record is that made by his wife, Eunice Schwerzmann. “Something happened, I never knew what. But it turned him against the church. When he left here he quit the ministry.” Some years later when “Schwerzy” seems to have vanished without a trace, the same lady, now Mrs. Jim Hammond, and still a faithful Methodist had this to say. “But God still loves the Dolores church just the same” Miss Minnie (Rush) remembers the first minister traveling to Dolores by horseback to conduct services. In the early years not all ministers were ordained and sometimes an ordained minister would come from Telluride by train to conduct Communion and weddings. During the years of 1910-12 Dr. J. D. Musgrave, a dentist, served the Dolores church. He died while serving.
The organizational meeting of the Ladies Aid Society was held at the home of Mrs. Charles Bear in the early 1900’s. Miss Minnie’s mother was one of the charter members of the organization. Sometime between 1938 and 1942 the Ladies Aid Society was changed to the Women’s Society of Christian Service (WSCS). Mrs. Hazel Baker, wife of the Minister, served as the first president. The name was changed again in 1972 to the United Methodist Women (UMW). The Women’s Society was an essential element in the growth and development of the church in Dolores. In January 1909 the Women’s Society purchased the town lot where the church now stands. The adjacent lot to the north was also purchased where the first parsonage building still stands. On Monday September 27, 1909 the cornerstone of the church was laid.
On Friday March 18, 1910 – Dr. Roberts of Denver University and District Superintendent Lee arrived in Dolores on the noon train. That evening Dr. Roberts preached in the new church. The attendance was not large due to the inclement weather. Following the sermon $500 was then raised on the outstanding debt of $700 – and the church was officially dedicated. The original building cost about $3,000, including donated materials and labor.
Inez Thomas grandmother, Mary Johnson, had made the first generous donation of money to the building fund and was very active in raising funds. The church was built “Because of Mary’s faith and devotion” and the church was named in her honor as the “Johnson Memorial Methodist Episcopal” church. (Inez Thomas lived in the house directly across the street from the church and parsonage and was for many years the organist).
The Rev. George W. Knuckles was serving during the completion of the building. He helped the contractor, Mr. Fulcher, haul sand and gravel for the cement and gravel work. The stone-like building blocks were manufactured on site.
In 1915 while many other churches in the area were struggling, the Dolores church built a parsonage next door to the church. The Rev. S. A. Curtis was the first to live in the parsonage and the Rev. David Engel was the last to live there. The parsonage was rented for several years after the Engel family transferred to Cortez. It was sold in 1972 for $3,000. It cost $200 to have the joint utility hookups severed, so the church only realized $2,800 from the sale. We also spent many volunteer hours cleaning and painting prior to the sale. When the parsonage was built, spruce trees were planted in front of the church and the parsonage. These trees grew so large you almost could not see the church or the house. The tree in front of the church was removed in 1980. The tree in front of the original parsonage remains.
In 1968 a new parsonage was constructed on 18th street. The lot was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn Smith. H. C. “Connie” Beckham, Dolores School District Superintendent, was the lead man on the construction. Wilbur “Dopy” Butler bulldozed a hole for the foundation. P. W. Miller drew the construction plans. Corky McLain provided the plumbing and gas lines. Many other men of the church assisted in the construction. The first pastor to live in the new parsonage was Rev. Leroy Lewis. This very comfortable house was sold in 2010 after the present parsonage – the “Merritt House” was purchased and renovated.
The present parsonage was purchased pretty much with the proceeds from the sale of the “Yellow House” which had been donated to the church by Richard and Evelyn Tibbitts. The church also created and sold Certificates of deposit to church members to raise funds. This home was originally built by Richard Tibbitts and was their family home before a new home was built next door. The next owner was Dr. Merritt and his family was raised there until their new home was built on their ranch west of Cortez. The house and property passed through several owners until purchased by the church.
The ground floor was extensively remodeled by both the men of the church and contractors. Windows were replaced and insulation added. The house was completely rewired. The property was annexed to the town and the sewer and water lines connected to town service. The outside grounds continue to be watered by a well.
The first pastor to live in the new parsonage was Rev. Rob Bruendl. Remodeling of the basement was begun during the year Rev. Sharon Strauss was our pastor, and completed after Rick Carpenter moved in. The parsonage driveway was shared between the church and the Tibbitt’s property, but was owned by the Tibbitt’s. Snow plowing was becoming a problem. In the fall of 2015 men of the church removed some vegetation, trimmed trees and removed some fence - and in early spring of 2016 the town extended Hillside Street to the parsonage – where it ends. A turn around was included so town equipment can maneuver. The dirt work required was provided by Arlin Lieurence.
In 1917 the Lewis community congregation was organized and served by the Dolores Pastor. In May of 1930 a church in the community of Ackman was organized and first served by the Dolores pastor. In the following years that church was served by the Cortez pastor with the service held on Sunday afternoon. For many years the Dolores church was yoked with other churches with the pastor serving Dolores and Lewis, Dolores and Mancos or as at present – Dolores and Dove Creek. In 1971 the Four Corners United Parish (4-Cup) was established. United Methodist pastors and lay representatives from each congregation made up the body. At that time mission churches were established in Blanding, Utah and at Towoac. These churches were served by pastors and lay speakers of the parish. The United Parish was replaced by the San Juan Sub-district. The mission churches no longer exist and the sub-district is no longer functioning as before.
While the Rev. Farmer was here during the 1920’s, the first annex was attached to the church. In 1955 when Rev. Simmons was here the north Sunday school rooms and the study was added. Most of the work was done by the church men. In 1976 funds were raised and the kitchen and annex were remodeled. In 2006 the mop closet was enlarged and converted to a women’s bathroom. Costs and part of the work was donated by Richard and Evelyn Tibbitts and Corky McLain, with assistance from other men of the church.
In 1980 the sanctuary was remodeled. Mr. Chubb was lead carpenter with help from many men of the church. The old slanted floor was made level with new floor joists and carpet was added. The old theater seats that were attached to the floor were removed and replaced with 100 cushioned chairs. The lights were replaced in a memorial to Bob Harrah Sr. In 2009 they were again replaced with newer lights which can be dimmed and ceiling fans were installed. The ceiling was dry-walled and textured and the walls were covered with paneling. The old and loud gas furnaces were replaced with electric baseboard heat. The raised chancel area was replaced with moveable units. The sanctuary could now be arranged in many ways, including in the round.
The stained glass windows were restored with new lead and glass by Mr. James Laughren from Durango. He expressed how fortunate we are to not only have these lovely windows, but also recognized the need for keeping them in good repair.
Mrs. Inez Thomas remembered her aunt Lyda Waldron (Mary Johnson’s daughter) on a visit to Dolores. While here Mrs. Waldron donated silverware to the church and contributed money for the stained glass windows. She remembered that in the 1950’s when Rev. Simmons was here - he was afraid that the window in the foyer with the Christ picture would get broken. He had it removed and it was framed and hung on the east wall with a light behind it. When the sanctuary was remodeled it was put back in the foyer with a fiberglass shield on the outside. A large hardwood cross made and donated by Don Ripley has hung in the sanctuary since the remodel. The cross was for several years backed with felt so it stood out from the paneling. Then a large banner with the flame hung behind it. Since 2018 a beautiful quilt made by women of the church has hung behind the cross.
It is not known how long the original organ was in use. It was replaced by a Hammond organ sometime in the 1950’s. The Hammond organ was replaced by the Clavinola during Pastor Vickie Street’s appointment. Rob Bruendl brought us into the computer age when he and Bill Hendricks installed digital equipment and a projector to project the words of hymns and scripture onto a screen. Bill also installed wireless microphones and a modern sound system. In 2016 the projector and screen were replaced by a computer and large monitor. The latest improvements were installed by Michael Cobb, husband of Pastor Cheri Cobb.
The cross and flame on the front of the church, made in Dolores by blacksmith Iron Megan, was donated by the Fischer family in honor of Jean Fischer, a longtime and backbone member of the church. The baptismal font was donated in memory of Curt Carlson by his wife Marie and her family. Jonathan V. Sanford was the first infant baptized from the new font in 1985 by Rev. Fred Amborn. The peace garden in front of the church was created when Rev. Rick Carpenter was here - and was donated by Bob Boyle in honor of his wife Dottie.
In 2015 the old crooked hallway between the sanctuary and the annex was done away with and we now have direct access through a double door. The old small counting room was done away with and the old hall became a closet. This was paid for by a fund drive within the congregation raising about $9,000. The new direct access is a great improvement.
The church annex (fellowship Hall) has always played a big part in the life of the community. Many organizations have met there including: The Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, head start, showers, receptions, bazaars, dinners, parties, sewing classes, Ground Hog Day Dinners, tea parties, Halloween parties, etc. Many of these event stopped when the Dolores Community Center opened in 1976. The annex is still available for these type events.
Pastor spouses have not been much included in this history. It is important to remember however that wives and husbands of various pastors have been very important in the life of the Dolores church. We very often don’t receive just a pastor but they come as a team.
Since the 1980’s most of the pastors appointed to Dolores have come here fresh out of seminary (or still in seminary) with very little experience. Our congregation understands that we are a training ground - and the pastor’s experience gained in Dolores and with whoever we are yoked with needs to be a good one. We try to do
a good job.
The Dolores Church has had many ups and downs over the years. Pastors come and go. All are remembered – most fondly so – but unfortunately some not so fondly. Official church membership has always hovered between 100 and 120 persons, with average attendance between 30 and 90. We had some bad years when attendance dwindled to less than 10. A slight increase occurred when the Lewis church closed in the 1980’s. Sunday services are now held at 9 am and attendance varies between 20 and 40 with an occasional 50+. Up through the mid-1980’s we had kids in Sunday school and an active youth group. Our congregation is now composed mostly of senior citizens, with a healthy group of summer folks. But we are still here in 2018 – PRAISE GOD!
1904-1906 Sylvanus Schwerzmann
1907-1908 Evan R. Evans
1908-1908 F. W. Ater
1908-1909 George L. Knuckles
1909-1910 William F. Clark
1910-1912 J. O. Musgrave
1912-1913 William H. Beers
1913-1914 Roscoe Fairchilds
1915-1918 S. A. Curtis
1918-1921 L. G. Honnold
1921-1922 S. L. Ford
1922-1923 S. A. Gregg
1923-1926 Clinton T. Farmer
1927-1927 C. W. Smith
1927-1935 Paul A. Shield
1935-1937 F. C. Sager
1937-1942 Henry H. Baker
1942-1944 Jake H. Wubben
1944-1946 W. R. Williams
1946-1951 George A. Turner
1951-1957 Erwin R. Simmons
1957-1961 Harry E. Edinger
1961-1967 David Engle
1967-1968 John Clark
1968-1971 Leroy Lewis
1971-1975 Glenn Lawrence
1975-1977 Robert E. Hunter
1978-1981 Norman R. Naff
1981-1986 Fred Amborn
1986-1989 Leighton Mekeal
1989-1991 Kenneth S. Smith
1991-1994 Duwayne Thaxton
1994-1996 Jeanne Redshaw
1996-2003 Johnny Aryington
2003-2006 Vickie Richards Street
2007-2010 Rob Bruendl
2010-2011 Sharon Strauss
2011-2015 Rick Carpenter
2015-2018 Cherie B. Cobb
2018- Teresa Adams
This history was compiled by David Sanford based on an older history made by Miss Minnie(Rush) – from notes and old church records left by Betty Duncan – personal conversations with Jean Fischer, P. W. and Nell Miller, Connie Beckham, Chubb Speer, Inez Thomas, Curt and Marie Carlson, Harry Edinger, David Engel, Jack and Emma Kinkade, Cordy (Wallace) Engelhart, Betty Duncan, Dopy Butler, Chuck and Lenora Lee, Corky and Vaughna McClain, Hazel Smith, and many others whose names I cannot come up with right now.
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