60 Years with Woodside ~ by Jane Grizzell, Charter Member
Toward the close of WWII, thousands of veterans returned home and began to marry and settle down in their newly purchased homes. New sub divisions seemed to appear overnight.
One such area was the Southlawn (now Laketown) community here in Springfield. GI loans were easily available to the veterans, and by 1950, several hundred new homes had been constructed, and most of these families were young and had small children.
It was logical that a Southlawn Improvement Association would soon be formed, and with the subdivision developer and enthusiastic labor of the young homeowners, a civic center was constructed and became the social center of the community. Monthly association meetings, Saturday night movies, and Southlawn minstrel rehearsals and performances, square dances, chili suppers, and an annual ice cream social and parade soon made it the hub of middle-class suburbia.
Since there were no churches in the area, the Springfield Council of Churches sponsored a survey and found that the predominant denomination in the area was Methodist. Based upon these statistics, the Springfield District Superintendent called a meeting of all interested parties at the center in January 1950. An enthusiastic group attended and plans for a Sunday School were formed and began in February in the Civic Center.
Movies, with popcorn and sodas, were held on Saturday night at the center, so the interested church people had to clean up afterwards and set up rustic painted homemade altar rails and a donated podium for Sunday's service. There was no piano, so Elam Cooper from our future "fellow" Jerome church played his trumpet for the singing worship services from February until June services were led by laymen and guest speakers. Often the children's teachers’ greatest challenge was to keep younger children off the cold basement floors while the adults were having services on the first floor.
Woodside Methodist Church was officially organized on May 21, 1950, with charter members under the leadership of student pastor Rev. Robert G. Vessey, who was assigned to serve the Jerome and Woodside charge. During that first year 10 new members were added, vacation church school was held for 30 children, and the Women's society of Christian Service (now United Methodist Women) was organized. Charter members included the following:
Franklin Brunk, Louise Brunk
Joseph Barber, Louise Earlene Barber
Hugh E. Burnett, Helen N. Burnett
Clyde Grizzell, Jane Grizzell
Russell Pickett, Gladys Pickett
Robert Reid, Evelyn Reid
Rev. Morris Hanley was appointed to the Woodside/Jerome charge in June 1951. Ground was broken on February 24, 1952, for Woodside's first building. Rev. Hanley and the men of the church along with their friends did the construction (including pouring the foundation). Support for the church was widespread and moneymaking projects met with great success. A "Builder's Banquet" was held at the Laurel Methodist Church in the spring of 1952 with tickets priced at $5.00. Woodside’s congregation received encouragement and $10,000.00 to purchase land from the Illinois Annual Conference. On July 30, the celebrated “Builder’s Barbecue" was held. Rev. Hanley started cooking at 5:30 a.m. expecting about 500 people. By the time the meal was over, they had served 900 and had to turn 30 away.
Beginning in the fall, very popular weekly dinners were held each Thursday for three years in the then-completed basement along with Sunday School and Church. Once, during construction, a windstorm blew the south wall down into the kitchen. A special workday was hurriedly organized and the weekly dinner was put on as usual.
Throughout his two years in Springfield, Rev. Hanley and/or lay members from Woodside traveled and spoke to other churches. These churches usually then supported the work at Woodside through a special conference offering.
Even before its official organization, Dr. Ray Grummon, of First Methodist Church in Springfield, was a powerful force in the developments at Woodside. He urged his members from the Southlawn area to become involved in the new church and the others to actively support it. During the Christmas season of 1952, Dr. Grummon had a tree placed in the sanctuary of First Church on which members put monetary gifts. It was advertised in the church's bulletin as a "Christmas gift for Woodside" which would help to provide spiritual guidance for the many new families in the city. Gifts in excess of $2,000.00 were received.
The first service was held in the nearly completed sanctuary on Christmas Eve, 1952. The pews were still being installed at 6:00 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. service. It was a very exciting and fulfilling moment for the whole church.
In January, one week of evangelistic services were held by Rev. Lyle Case. On Good Friday, 1953, Rev. Hanley officiated the church's first wedding.
1953 also saw the arrival of Rev. Charles E. Johnson as the first full-time ordained minister appointed to the Woodside-Jerome charge. The first adult choir was organized in 1953 under the direction of Mrs. Richard Reinert (previously, music had been provided by guest soloists or groups within the church). In 1953, work began on the rooms next to the sanctuary. During the next two years, members worked one night a week to complete the project.
In 1955, the church began to hold two Sunday morning worship services. By this time, the membership had grown to 172 with 218 attending Sunday school.
The Rev. Johnson was appointed full-time to Woodside Methodist Church in 1955. Anticipating this change, the Board of Trustees approved the construction of a parsonage on land north of the church. Ground was broken in March and the project completed in July.
In 1957, Mrs. Myrna Buyan was hired as a part-time secretary. After study and investigation, a program was launched in the spring of 1957 to expand the church. This expansion was to take place in three stages at a total cost of $105,000.00. During 1957, the first $50,000.00 of this sum was pledged by the congregation for the building of a new sanctuary with additional educational and fellowship facilities. Ground was broken in May 1958 and completed in time for Christmas services.
Rev. Charles Johnson left Woodside in June of 1959. The membership had increased to 414 with 495 enrolled in the Sunday school. The annual budget had increased from $2,800.00 to $21,000.00 during his ministry. In recognition of his great service to the Woodside congregation, the original church building has been named Johnson Hall.
Rev. Gideon Carlson was appointed to Woodside in 1959.
Rev. Chester "Chet" Sheldon was appointed to Woodside in 1960. During his ministry, the interior of the sanctuary was completed, a choir room and a nursery were added, and Sunday school rooms were built in Johnson Hall.
In 1964, Rev. Ralph E. Jasper was appointed to Woodside. He was here thirteen years. Membership at Woodside peaked during this period at approximately 800 members.
Rev. C. William (Bill) Zander was appointed to Woodside in 1976. Craig Hill came to Woodside in 1978 as a youth minister. Rev. George Loveland was appointed to Woodside in 1987. Rev. Thomas Wilber was appointed to Woodside in 1995. During the ministries of Rev. Loveland and Rev. Wilber there were several physical improvements at Woodside: the congregation installed a pipe organ, built a first-floor rest room, and installed an elevator. A house behind the church was purchased and a parking lot was built. The next-door parsonage that had been rented for many years was demolished providing the church with a nice side yard that is used for Vacation Bible School, recreation, outdoor worship services, and ice-cream socials.
In 2000, Rev. Nadine Preston was appointed to Woodside. And, in 2004, Pastor Jim Poole was appointed to serve. Rev. Linda Harrod was appointed as an associate pastor in 2006.
In 2011, Rev. Dr. David Estep was appointed as our new pastor.
There have been so many talents, and services, and gifts of love and dedication that have passed through the life of Woodside during these 60 years that it would be an impossible challenge for anyone to even begin to name them. But it should be noted that no church has ever been loved or revered any more than Woodside.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, Woodside.