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Despite three fires, their faith is still burning

Members of the Methodist Men's Club, left to right, William Kilimann, Howard Hall, Frank Gogins and Havard Archerd help put on a Mother-Daughter Banquet on May 10, 1952. (Photos submitted)1 / 6
A program for the Lester Park Methodist Church 40th anniversary in 1930 show all three of its building. The top two burned down and the third was gutted by fire in 1949.2 / 6
This June 16, 1933 story from the Duluth Herald carries the news that Lester Park Methodist Church's minister, the Rev. S.S.Wyand, was fatally injured. Another Methodist minister, the Rev. B.E. Williams of Forbes Memorial Methodist Church in Proctor, was also fatally injured. The two were traveling in the same car on Miller Trunk Highway.3 / 6
On Sept. 23, 1923, the Lester Park Methodist Church congregation pose in front of the second church they had built. Some six months later, this church also burned.4 / 6
Stained glass windows inside the current Lester Park United Methodist Church.5 / 6
A special 15-page booklet was put together for the church’s 75th or diamond jubilee anniversary in 1964. The booklet contains an in-depth history of the church with remembrances from individuals. 6 / 6

Methodist churches have a history of planting new churches. In 1889, two brothers who were members of Duluth's downtown First Episcopal Methodist Church took the a step to plant a Methodist church in the then-new neighborhood of Lester Park.

The brothers, Arthur E. and Henry N. Brown, purchased lots at 54th Avenue East and Superior Street and began building their homes. At the same time, they saw a need for a church in the neighborhood. Lakeside Land Company agreed to donate one lot and sell another at a 20 percent discount.

"It has now been 125 wonderful years since the beginning of our church out in East Duluth and there is a lot of history which has come and gone since 1889," said a prepared statement from the Lester Park United Methodist Church.

But not all the years were wonderful. The church suffered three fires and the death of a pastor in an automobile accident.

"We've struggled through all kinds of societal and economic changes. And we're still here and we're still operating and still doing God's work," said Tony Coda, president of the church council and a member of the team working to set up a celebration of their "quasquicentennial."

The church began as Lester Park Methodist Episcopal Church. Six years later, in 1895, a fire all but destroyed the entire facility.

Another frame structure was erected with the help of its members and the insurance company. "And for 28 years until 1924, the church flourished as a main Christian focus point of East Duluth," Coda said. "We were about the only church out in that area."

1924 brought yet another fire to the structure. This time, the congregation decided to build the brick structure that is still here today.

"We, as a church, have survived the Roaring '20s, Prohibition, the Great Depression and another major world war," said Mary Coda, Tony's wife and also a member of the celebration committee. "It seems to be a strategic plan of the Lord's that He wants us where we are."

Just as World War II was winding down in 1949, yet another fire broke out and did some very heavy damage to the building's interior. The congregation held Sunday services at the Lester Park School until repairs could be made.

During remodeling a large wooden beam came tumbling down out of the ceiling. To this day, the beam can be seen at the front of the sanctuary as a cross.

In 1960, the education wing was added for Sunday school, youth group activities and a church library and office. Since then, everything has stayed the way it should with no further fires.

The Rev. Sam Kautz has been the pastor since July, 2012.

"I think it's important for us to take ... these anniversary celebrations to remember the past and all that people have put in: the time, energy and faithfulness," Rev. Katz said. "And to be part of that legacy and to propel us to the future." He said the church expresses itself in three M's: music, missions and Methodist history.

"We're inviting people into our church because it's a beautiful old church with beautiful stained glass windows," Tony told the Budgeteer. "Now we hope to keep it going for another hundred years."

If you go

Who: Lester Park United Methodist Church

What: Celebrating 125 years

When: 11 a.m. Dec. 7, service with a brunch at 12:30 p.m.

How: with music from the Wurlitzer pipe organ

Reservations for brunch urged. Call (218) 525-4373.

History of Lester Park United Methodist Church

  • 1889: Arthur E. and Henry N. Brown purchase two lots at 54th Avenue East and Superior Street. The Church Society is organized Dec. 6, 1889.

  • 1890: Wooden church building is dedicated.

  • 1893: Nationwide financial panic occurs.

  • 1895: Church burns to the ground on April 23.

  • 1895: New wooden church dedicated Dec. 8.

  • 1924: Washington’s Birthday, second church destroyed by fire. Worship services held at Lester Park School.

  • 1924: New brick church building dedicated Sept. 24.

  • 1928: New Wurlitzer pipe organ installed.

  • 1930: Great Depression sets in, finances a struggle. Pastor Rev. Wyand unpaid.

  • 1933: Rev. Wyand killed in auto accident.

  • 1934-1948: “The healing years and war years.” Young people are active in Epworth League and Oxford League.

  • 1949: Labor Day. Fire damages church again.

  • 1960: Education wing built

  • 1970: Parsonage next door razed to provide parking lot. New parsonage bought.

  • 1980: Congregation sponsors a Hmong refugee family of eight.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at www.DuluthDailyPhoto.com.

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