Monday, September 1, 2008

Milwaukee Chapel 75th anniversary

Last weekend Mom and I attended a special event in Milwaukee -- the 75th anniversary celebration of the chapel in Milwaukee where I grew up. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the highlights of that event with the family.

My sister DeAnna made a special trip here from Ohio to also attend this event and stayed overnight with us on Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- so we had a nice visit and caught up with each other.

I always thought that the chapel in Milwaukee was designed and built by the German saints who mostly lived in this community -- but as it turns out that wasn't exactly true. The building was designed in Salt Lake and was one of the early chapels built outside of the mountain west back in 1934. As you might recall, 1934 wasn't exactly the best of times in this country -- it was depression times and jobs were really hard to come by. So for the saints in Milwaukee to come up with the money for the local share was a trial all by itself. We learned that the church bought 3 lots in a subdivision to build this church on. It wasn't the first chapel built in the Milwaukee area -- but the previous chapel had been sold to another congregation because they outgrew it and this church was built "way out in the country". Now of course it's in a very urban area -- but at the time it was "in the boonies" - because it was less expensive than building in the city.

The most interesting part of the story has to do with the conflict between the locals building the church and "the church building department in Salt Lake". (Does this sound familiar?). Turns out that the church called for the use of red brick on the outside of the building and an asphalt roof. That of course didn't happen -- the building is a beautiful lannon stone on the exterior and a red clay tile roof -- and the original building had a beautiful pipe organ in the chapel instead of the specified electronic organ.

Turns out that the local saints talked the local quarry into supplying lannon stone for the same price as the red brick the church specified -- and the local tile company to supply the red tiles for the same price as asphalt! (it was hard times - so they were anxious for the business). And the pipe organ was paid for outside of the original contract for construction of the building by the local saints in addition to the local share of the cost which had to be paid to Salt Lake City.

We saw many of the German saints that built the church in this area. It was especially fun for Heinz to see many of his German friends whom he hadn't seen for 50 years. We visited with Mark and MaryAnn Busselberg -- Joyce's roommate at BYU and my childhood friend. She is confined to a wheel chair (a powered wheelchair) as a result of multiple sclerosis and Mark is suffering from Parkinson's -- but they still manage to live independently in Greendale. MaryAnn isn't shy about asking people to help her transfer from wheelchair to a special seat fitted into their minivan that elevates like an elevator to allow her to get in and sit. Mark still drives the car -- it's not clear how much longer he will be able to do so. He has a ramp that the powered wheelchair climbs up into the back of the minivan and then folds up to be carried in the back to the next destination. They have modified their home such that MaryAnn can get around in her powered wheelchair -- and so life goes on for them. I respect them for their independence and positive attitude in the face of incredible physical challenges at this phase of their lives.

President Charles Monk did a lot of the organization work to make this anniversary happen. Recall that he replaced Dad as the Stake President in Milwaukee when Dad was called on a mission to the Philippines. He has since been released for many years and currently serves as a sealer in the Chicago Temple where we see him frequently. Turns out that he made a CD of pictures of the early construction of the building and saints that he made available to all who attended.

Perhaps you recall that Mom and Dad sponsored the Wehrhahn family from Germany in the 50's -- German saints whom they had never met but sponsored on the basis of recommendations from their friends who lived in the Milwaukee Ward where Dad served in the Bishopric for 12 years. They had 3 children, Wilfred, Fred and Lucy. We saw Lucy and Wilfred at this anniversary -- and we see Fred frequently as he is a sealer in the Chicago Temple but he happend to be on vacation at this time. Fred shared with me a copy of the official paperwork that allowed his family to immigrate right after the war that Dad signed. In essence, Dad signed a document that guaranteed that this family would never seek welfare from the government and he had sufficient means to help them should it become necessary. Wilfred is suffering from some problem that doesn't allow him to sit for any length of time -- so he left early.

Paul Smith