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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Westcliffe United Methodist Church 100th Anniversary

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Westcliffe Community United Methodist Church:

100 Years In The Valley

Last Sunday afternoon, I spoke at the 100th anniversary of the Community United Methodist Church. I decided to share it on this post. Some of what I said is new. Some of it, I have said before, and some of you have heard it before. I hope you don’t mind.

If you like, Come along with me as we rewind back to days gone by and press pause for just a little while. Some pictures are a little blurred, but I hope they will communicate at least a little of the past to those who remember it.

The Presbyterians moved this building to Westcliffe from Ula in 1887. The Methodist purchased it in 1923. Notice the stone house, barely visible in the background. Ray and Genevieve Stewart owned it until it became the parsonage in the 1960”s. (I think the selling price was about $9000)







(Left) The present building, built in 1954, still sits on the same sight as the old building. The tree, and another one not In the picture, were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Quinton Singewald from Silver Springs Maryland, Summer visitors in Westcliffe who attended the Methodist Church when they were in town. this picture is from 1975.....(Right) The same trees today.


Barb and I—1975 Barb and I—today

I guess the trees weren’t the only ones that aged.

***************

Many people may tend to think of the church as a building, a denomination, or a Sunday morning service, but the church is people. Occasionally I remember and revisit a few of the people who once gathered on Sunday’s at the corner of 6th Street and Rosita Avenue.


Jim and Mary Patterson—1955

and on their 60th anniversary—2015











Betty Munson—1975


In 1974, there were only about 1000 people in Custer County, and there were only five churches in Westcliffe. Some of the churches did not have pastors, so someone would usually drive in on Sunday to preach. Father James however, had been at the Catholic Church since the mid 1960”s


In the fall of 1974 some Custer County H.S. students asked Barb and me to start a high school youth group in Westcliffe. Many of them are now retired and have grandchildren.


That early group included: Karen Porth, Lynette Godberson, Phyllis Vickerman, Amy Davis, Wilma Vickerman, Carol Canda, Melanie Camper, Nicki Kastendieck, Bonnie Kettle, Pam Hansen, Donna Hood, Jeanne Porth, Tammy Camper, Tina Camper, Ronni Galindo, Jenny Galindo, Doug Wilson, and Bryan Sullivan. (My apologies, I’m sure I forgot somebody).

At the time, Doug and Bryan were definitely outnumbered, but the boy/girl numbers would balance out in later years.

In May of 1975 I was asked to speak at the Custer County High School baccalaureate. Reluctantly, I agreed, and when I walked out of the gym that night I was relieved to know that my preaching days were over...…Or so I thought.

However, about 7:00 one Sunday morning, a couple of weeks later, I got a call from Walter (Lammy) Hansen, who asked me if I could preach at the Methodist Church at 9:00.

—I said, “I don’t preach.”

—Lammy said, “Some of us heard you at baccalaureate.”

—I said, “That was my only sermon.

—Lammy said, “Then preach it.”

—So I did.

A few months after that I got another call from Lammy, asking if I would consider being the Methodist pastor. And so, I was the pastor from 1975-1977. Occasionally, I am still asked to preach, and when I do, I can still remember where some people sat:

Lawerence and Wilda Entz—in the back on my left

Harold and Shirley Jennings (Debbie and Connie)—in front of them

Lammy and Frieda Hansen—second row on my left

Ruth Lange—right side, half way back

George and Virgie Koch—in front of Ruth

Harvey and Jean Rusk—left side close to the front

Earl and Dot Cress—near the back on the right

Kathy Benson (and sometimes Bud)—in front of Dot and Earl

Hugh and Betty Munson (Michelle)—always near the front

Jim and Mary Patterson—midway on my left—Same place they are sitting this afternoon.


With Jim and Mary here today, I have to be a little careful with the stories I tell. They are the only ones that could accuse me of lying.

Many other old valley names come to mind: Hobby, Geroux, Reis, Camper, Kidder, Kness, Luthi, DeWall, Tomsick, Vahldick, Coleman….And Arlie Riggs, who at 97 years old, I believe may be the oldest living Westcliffe resident.

Her husband Dan, game warden at the time, has been gone for many years, and today Arlie’s address is Valley Assisted Living. But In 1975 Arlie and Dan lived on their ranch on Muddy Road, and Arlie was the director of Custer County Social Services. Barb and I had been working with Arlie on the possibility of adoption.

We were living in the stone house which was the church parsonage, and one night there was a knock on our door. When I opened it, Arlie was standing on the porch holding a large basket with a blanket over it.

My first thought was,”Wow! I didn’t think they did it like this any more.” Arlie waited in order to get the full effect. Then she pulled back the blanket to reveal a basket of tomatoes some friends had sent up from Canon City.

And for the next 40 years Arlie would occasionally bring up that night, laugh, and say again, “You should have seen the look on your face.”

***************

There was no such thing as a cell phone back then, and many people in the county did not have a phone at all. So, home based CB’s and mobile units in vehicles were fairly common.

Bonny Patterson played the organ, and sometimes the frequency of a passing CB would somehow line up with the frequency of the organ, and in the middle of my sermon I might hear someone telling a family member their current location, or asking what was for supper.

***************

Earl and Art Cress were charter members of the Methodist church. Once, when I was visiting at the ranch, Earl said to me, “Dick, did I ever tell you how my brother Art and I became Methodist?”

I said no, and so he proceeded to tell me. “Well, way back, the Presbyterians had a church building at Ula. They moved the building into town, and when Art and I were boys, we attended there. In 1923 the Methodist bought the building. Our names were still in the old book that was left in it….so we became Methodist.” (Earl would have been 16 or 17 yrs. old at the time).

***************

Not long ago, Terri Rowenhorst asked me about the church’s community involvement when I was pastor. This really got me thinking.

As I have said, the church is not a building, a denomination, or a Sunday morning service. And so, the question meant, how were the people who were called Methodists, back then, involved in the community?

To answer that question, I probably need to say something about Westcliffe half a century ago.

Things are different now. Not only are there five times more people in the county, I think are there more than five times as many churches. The Main Street that was gas station, grocery store, and hardware, is now gift shop, art gallery, and restaurant. Ranching has diminished in the Valley, and tourism has increased.

Back then, almost everybody who lived here, worked here, or had worked here. In the Valley Today, many People work remotely, others have come here to retire, and still others work outside the Valley. Community involvement today, seems to be something you have to choose, volunteer for, or sign up for.

Asking about how the church was involved in the community four or five decades ago would be like asking, “How is some of the water involved in the lake?” Community involvement was not something you chose, it just was!

How was the Methodist Church involved? My wife Barb, Betty Munson, Barb Wilson, Mark and Janet Hanley, and David Bristol were all teachers at the school. Dick Wilson was the school superintendent, and I taught H.S and coached basketball and track.

Gerouxs, Reises, Colemans, Kochs, Rusks, and others were all ranchers. Arlie Riggs was the head of social services. Jim Patterson was on the school board. Whitney Sullivan was the county judge, and Lawerence Entz was the mayor of Silver Cliff.

Bud and Kathy Benson owned the Phillips 66 station across from the school. Sue Canda ran the meat locker on the Southwest corner of 2nd Street and Main.

Across the street to the East, Harold and Shirley Jennings owned and operated Jennings Market. Another Dick Wilson was the butcher at Jennings. Dick’s wife Iris Wilson was the school secretary, and on weekends, Dick and Iris ran the Jones Theatre.

Jennings Market Southeast Corner of Second and Main



Harold, Shirley, Debbie, and Connie Jennings—About 1979


On any given Sunday morning, most of these people could often be found gathered together at the corner of 6th and Rosita. However, during the week, We all had our own niche in the community where most of us attempted to add a little of the "salt and light" of eternity, and live out the faith to which Jesus had called us.

***************

We didn’t have a lot of special or ecumenical events in those days, but Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Methodist did often gather together…Usually it was at Friday night ball games, school plays, or at Susie’s Cafe.

We attended weddings and funerals together. We branded, butchered, ate, fished, fenced, hunted, and hayed, together. We did business, shopped, and worshipped together. We agreed, disagreed, laughed, and cried together.

Sometimes, we knew more about one another than we really wanted to know, but community involvement was definitely not something we had to choose. It just was.


It was organic. It flowed out of the intertwining of lives in very ordinary and daily ways. We shared work and play, joy and pain, memories and stories, and good conversation……And in the midst all that, needs were met, relationships were forged, and acts of compassion were given and received.

***************

Westcliffe is different today than it was 50 years ago. And, I’m sure that it will continue to change. However, this Community United Methodist Church has been a part of the Valley for 100 years now.


I am sure that the people of faith who gather at the corner of 6th and Rosita in 2023, and those who will gather in the years to come, will continue to be "salt and light", and help to shape and influence life in the community and the valley.










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