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W’bago church celebrating 150th anniversary

By Staff | Oct 6, 2019

First Presbyterian Church in Winnebago’s minister, Rev. Michael Roys, stands in the church sanctuary. The congregation of the church is planning a celebration on Sunday, Oct. 13, for their 150th anniversary.

The members of the First Presbyterian Church in Winnebago have something big to celebrate on Sunday, Oct. 13.

It is their 150th anniversary. And, they plan on celebrating it in a big way.

“It is actually being celebrated one day early,” the church’s pastor, Rev. Michael A. “Mike” Roys says. “The church was actually organized on Oct. 14, 1869. But, of course, we wanted to celebrate on a Sunday, so it will be the day before the actual official anniversary.”

While the Winnebago church was organized in 1869, the excavation for construction of a church building did not actually happen until 1870.

And, the dedication of that first church building (located on two lots one block north and a block east of the current church) did not happen until June of 1871.

The cost of that new church building was between $6,000 and $6,200. It is listed that $2,560 came from members and the rest came as donations from non-church members, including $1,000 from C.W. Thompson, the founder of the city of Wells that same 1869 year.

The first pastor of the church was Rev. Jacob Conrad, a supply minister from New York state. The church history says that after the church building was dedicated, Rev. Conrad left and returned to New York because he was “unable to take the cold weather and live in a frigid house.” Another part of the church’s interesting history is that a fundraiser was started during the construction of the church building to get a bell for the church.

It weighed 516 pounds and cost $250, and also had a very strange inscription put on it, Pastor Roys pointed out. It read “The Spirit and the Bride say come, let him that heareth say come.”

Another interesting note from the early days of the First Presbyterian Church is that in the early days of Winnebago there were Presbyterians and Congregationalists both worshipping together.

The Congregationalists actually had formally organized into a church congregation before the Presbyterians had, but when they saw how the Presbyterians had raised money to build an actual church building, they voted 11 to 3 to all turn Presbyterian.

One bit of church history that has turned out to not be true was that the first church building had Tiffany stain-glass windows in it. Pastor Roys says research has shown that bit of church lore to be false.

“Another bit of church history that I found out was not true, was that the first church building burned to the ground,” he says. “But I researched it, including looking up stories in the newspapers at the Winnebago Museum, and there wasn’t any fire.”

What is true is that the congregation continued to grow by leaps and bounds. At one Sunday service in 1885, there were 45 new members accepted into church membership, all at once.

By 1898 the original church was bulging at the seams and the congregation appointed a committee to look into building a new, larger church.

Which they did, starting construction in 1899. It is the church which is still in use 118 years later and located on Main Street in Winnebago.

It had a dedication service held on Jan. 13, 1901, followed by one more final service in the original church.

That original church did not burn down. Instead, it was used for a time by Dr. K. Roberts, a veterinarian, for a horse barn. Later it was used in part to house Bob Miner’s original auto repair shop.

The new church cost approximately $14,000. At the time of the dedication service the congregation had raised $8,000, but they wanted to start this new beginning of the church’s life debt free.

And, by the end of that dedication service in 1901, an additional $4,000 (plus) had been pledged.

The church had been built to hold a maximum of 500 people for a service (membership was at 200), but at the dedication service there were over 600 folks in attendance.

There have been many additions made to the church itself over the years. One of the first was the brick building to the south, which for a while also served as the Winnebago Library during the week, and had Sunday School classes on the weekends.

The fellowship hall and kitchen were built in the 1950s. Then, the “new addition” was built in the late 1980s which provided a parlor area for meetings, a choir room, offices for pastor and the secretary and handicap accessible restrooms, and a lift from the fellowship hall to the sanctuary. Total cost was approximately $100,000, paid off by the mid-1990s.

There have been many pastors serving the congregation over the years, 24 to be exact, including some beloved ministers like Richard Thompson, George Tjaden and Harlan Kruse.

Their current minister, Pastor Roys, arrived in early 1992 and has been the longest serving pastor in the church’s 150 year history.

Pastor Roys announced recently that he plans to retire at the end of this year. His wife Bonnie is also an ordained minister. Both Michael and Bonnie Roys have also served the church in Blue Earth.

“There is a lot of history to this church, of course, over its 150 years,” Pastor Roys says. “That includes the creation of the ‘Next-to-New’ shop in the 1960s, and the creation of the ecumenical Lenten, Christian Unity, Thanksgiving, Good Friday services, and eventually one at ‘Bago Fun Fest.”

That history will be celebrated at the Oct. 13, 150th anniversary church service and program.

Worship service is at 10 a.m., with a potluck dinner (based on recipes from the church’s three church cookbooks) at noon.

Then at 1 p.m. there will be a program which will include time for sharing memories, looking at displays, presentations and even a Next-to-New 50th Anniversary Style Show.

“I want to stress that this celebration is open to the public, not just church members,” Pastor Roys said. “And we hope that a lot of people will want to come and help us celebrate and share memories.”