The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.
The Rich History of Quincy's Unitarian Church.
Presented June 5, 2005, by Judy Crocker and Sandy Morrison
"Come into this place of peace and let its silence heal your spirit. Come into this place of memory and let its history warm your soul. Come into this place of prophecy and power and let its vision change your heart."
You may remember that during 2004 we shared a moment from our history just before the offering each Sunday. this is one we've been saving. Our church records show that, in September of 1945, a young teen-aged boy was paid $1.95 for mowing the grass that summer. that boy continued to mow the grass, even when he was no longer a boy. He mowed it with his father; he mowed it with other church members; he mowed it along. As you make your offerings this morning, remember that the grass is still growing - both literally and metaphorically - and that Ted Morrison no longer mows it for $1.95.
"Look behind you. See your sons and your daughters. They are your future. Look farther and see your sons' and your daughters' children and their children's children even unto the seventh generation. Think about it: You yourself are a seventh generation."
Season after season, year after year, generation after generation, Unitarians in Quincy have been gathering for 166 years to celebrate, to learn, to question, to remember, to hope. Today marks the end of this year's formal services - a time for looking back, looking forward.
The term "founding fathers" conjures up images of old men with long, flowing white beards. Our founding fathers - and they were fathers, no mothers - were young men. The group of four included William Eliot, founder of Washington University in St. Louis and pastor of a Unitarian Church there, and three Quincians - Edward Wells, James D. Morgan, and Robert Benneson. Only Benneson was thirty; the rest were in their twenties. Wells had been an apprentice cooper in Boston and had reportedly come to Quincy without a dollar. Here he was a cooper and a pork packer. He became the director of a bank and a railroad and was instrumental ingetting a bridge built across the Mississippi.
His business partner, James Morgan was also from Boston and was a member of the militia who would later become involved in the Mormon Wars and the Mexican War. In addition to the businesses he shared with Wells, he was also a confectioner. In early 1861, a heavy bag of flour fell on him, breaking his leg. When the Civil War broke out, broken leg notwithstanding, he hopped on a horse and rode to Springfield to sign up to fight for the Union. He served throughout the war without furlough and was involved in several major campaigns including Sherman's march to the sea. He came home as General Morgan.
Robert Benneson appears to have been the leader of the founders. It was Benneson with whom William Eliot corresponded during the founding process. He was a businessman, president of the Board of Education for 14 years, and was at one time mayor of Quincy, but interestingly enough we know more about his daughters than we do about him. He was the father of four daughters - no sons - and his youngest, Cora Agnes would, as a child, sit in church and critique the sermons. She'd draw a tree with the main idea written on the trunk and the details written on branches. A sermon that could not be "treed" was not a good one. Cora was more than a little precocious. She graduated from high school at the age of 15; she completed the University of Michigan's four-year program in three years. She applied to Harvard Law School, but was told that Harvard was "too limited in facilities to make provision for a woman," so she went to law school at Michigan. She spent more than two years traveling the world and visited China, Ethiopia, Burma, and other exotic places - all without a male escort. She taught history at Bryn Mawr and also studied there with a young professor named Woodrow Wilson. She became known as an expert in the role and authority of the federal government, and, in 1918, quit practicing law to teach history to newly-arrived immigrants. Her sister, Anna, was a published author; another sister, Caroline, was Caroline Sexauer's grandmother. Caroline Sexauer, for those of you new to Quincy was, for years, director of the Quincy Public Library. for 160 years, members of Robert Benneson's family were active members of this church. That ended with Caroline Sexauer's death in 1999. It was then that the communion set in the rear of the sanctuary was given to the church. It's my understanding that it had belonged to the church originally, but was given to the Benneson family when the church no longer used it.
Another notable woman who was active here was Dr. Abbie Fox Rooney. She was the first woman regularly licensed to practice medicine in Illinois - licensed in 1874. She was president of the Adams County Medical Society. Her husband was also a doctor. She was Unitarian; he was Catholic and both, throughout their marriage were quite active in their respective churches. She had a son who became a Franciscan priest, another who became a doctor. After her husband's death she moved to Los Angeles where she was instrumental in the growth of a Unitarian Church there. She and her husband are given credit for sponsoring the career of Dr. E. B. Montgomery. Dr. Montgomery, who died in 1954 at the age of 96 was believed at the time to be the nation's oldest practicing physician. A lifelong Unitarian, he wrote our centennial history in 1939.
The names of our founders and early members appear above the fireplace in the Heritage Room. George Bond (no relation to any of our current members) was an early Quincy settler who was working for 50 cents a day, supporting his wife and three children when he went in the pork packing business with General Morgan. Bond was later Quincy's first "ice man," cutting big chunks of ice from the frozen Mississippi, and packing it in straw for storage until the river again froze. Bond left the Unitarian Church to become a Mormon and moved to Salt Lake City. He and his family are, however, buried in Quincy. Another family's name you'll see there is Lynds. Daniel Lynds was a pharmacist; his family is buried in the beautiful vault in Woodland Cemetery with the clean Classical lines and no ornamentation - very Unitarian. Enoch Conyers had just been elected mayor of Quincy when the cholera epidemic that killed 400 people in Adams County took his life.
The list goes on and on with people from all walks of life - farmers, bankers, artists, professors, musicians. We seem to have had a lot of librarians. Does that surprise you? Late nineteenth and early twentieth century Quincy merchandising names like Kespohl, Mohrenstecker, Halbach. Kespohl-Mohrenstecker and Halbach's were both family-owned department stores. There actually used to be such things. Otto Mohrenstecker's daughter, Fritzi Morrison, a well-known artist, still lives in the family home on Jersey. She's quite elderly and, therefore, no longer active in the church.
Many of us - probably most of us - have come to Unitarianism from other traditions. There are among us three families, however, who can claim five generations of Unitarianism. Sandy Morrison has researched those families.
The three families we have chosen to talk about this morning represent the continuity of the 166 years our church has been in this community. These families represent four to five generations of participation in the Quincy Unitarian Church. All three families have members that are alive and active at this time and hopefully will be for years to come.
In true Unitarian style the service this morning was put together by gathering information from many people. Sherryl Lang pulled up interesting facts from her resources, Nancy Winters did some reminiscing that helped a lot, Frieda Marshall, our church historian contributed so much and Ridgley Pierson shared his kowledge of Quincy lore.
The Berrian, McCarl, Winters family represents five generations of membership in our church. The Berrian family came to Quincy from New York in 1844. Reading from a history of Quincy and Adams County:
"In the development of Quincy Judge Berrian has been a prominent factor. He was one of the first aldermen to represent the Fourth Ward, in 1857 and 1859. In 1869 he was elected Mayor and under his administration the city resumed cash payments. Previous to that time the resources of the city had become so reduced that all payments had been made in vouchers. In 1876 Berrian was elected county judge and held that important office for seventeen years. During his long term of service on the bench the affairs of the court were administered with even-handed and impartial justice and Judge Berrian is universally regarded as one of the most honorable officials of the city and county."
Berrian School and Berrian Park, located on North 12th Street are named after Judge Berrian.
Judge Berrian's signature is recorded in our membership book as of 1904. He served on the board and was involved in many church activities. The William Penn window in the heritage room was dontated by his wife and dedicated to him for his service to the church.
Benjamin Berrian's daughter Hannah married Lyman McCarl. Lyman McCarl grew up in Adams County and was a man of liberal education and culture. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Lombard College, he taught for a few years, then returned to Lombard to earn his Master of Science degree. He then continued to teach school while he compiled and wrote a county history of LaSalle County. Next he studied law and after getting his law degree left teaching and started in the law profession.
He was elected Judge of Adams County. A direct quote from the history book, "Judge McCarl in politics is a democrat and in religion a Unitarian."
Judge McCarl's grand-daughter is an active member of this church. She remembers that he was instrumental in starting the Humane Society in Quincy. This is significant as several people in her family now work with animals.
Judge McCarl's great-grand-daughter is also a member of this church. She is now employed by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City.
Judge McCarl also helped get Cheerful Home started - this is the oldest day care in Illinois. His grand-daughter remembers how he was always helping people who were struggling, especially widows and single women, in the days when females had few options.
During the depression people came to the home of Judge McCarl's daughter - several years after he had died - to bring eggs and other produce. They were so appreciative of what he had done for them during their hard times.
Some of us still remember his daughter's presence in our church. She was a lady - a genteel lady in the truest sense of the word - also a lady of action. She was an activist before her time. That was the manner in which she went into the community to make a difference. Under her direction the Unitarian Women's Alliance started the Family Planning Program in Quincy. To this day several Unitarians serve on that board.
In the 1950's, she often went to sit by the gates of Indian Mounds swimming pool to make sure the black children were allowed to swim.
A fourth generation daughter of this family is with us here, today. She has contributed much to the Quincy community and the church community. Through the years she has served five terms on our board of trustees. So, you see what our newcomers have to look forward to.
Beginning with Benjamin Berrian's membership in 1905, five generations of his descendants have infused the community of Quincy and the community of Quincy's Unitarian Church with their Spirit.
The next legend to think about is the Dege family. In the 1930's, Herman and Anna Dege and their three-year-old daughter Bertha left Germany. The decision to come to America was based on a certainty that Germany would go to war. As a young husband and father, Herman chose to be a total abstainer and a humanist and a pacifist.
Quote from Herman Dege's writing: "As a school boy I was herded with others into the Lutheran Church, but I didn't belong to it."
In adulthood in Germany he considered himself a free-thinker and attended meetings of the Ethical Society. The relatives who welcomed the family to Quincy were strict Baptists.
Further quotes from Herman's writings:
"Mrs. Eldred, mother of Frances Morrison, was the first person who took me into this church, though I did not learn the meaning of it then. In 1931 we were invited by Daniel Sands, the minister, to come to this church and we came back every Sunday."
"When I joined this church, the minister announced that were members with the first-hand religion. I was enthusiastic about this adventure. I had not been aware that there were many people with the same ideals - the ideals of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Before, I felt I had to hide my religious beliefs to be able to get along with the customers of my business."
The church became the center of his attention and his family became very active. Herman was Sunday School Superintendent and established a Children's Theater that performed for capacity crowds. In 1934 the theater program had three plays, "When the Sun Stayed in Bed," "Elsie's Burglar" and "My Cousin from Sweden."
All five of their daughters became involved in the chuch's life. Bertha played the piano and directed the children's choir, Anna Louise swewed choir robes. Frieda, Clara Lily and Patsy Rose grew up to be Sunday School Teachers.
At the time of the centennial celebration in 1939, Herman Dege, owner of the Artisan Furniture Shop and a well-known craftsman designed and built two chancel tables in gothic style to match the church interior. The larger table holds the candelabra and the smaller table holds the membership book.
He made the wooden receptacles for the offeratory envelopes that were added to the pews. In the church entry you can see a large placque with carving of "In Grateful Memory." He made this framework and carved the patterns for the cast bronze scrolls.
The quiet part of the marriage, Mrs. Dege attended services and made needle point pincushions for new members, personalized with initials.
All five daughters remained active Unitarians. We recently celebrated Bertha's life when she passed away last month at age 94. Bertha and Frieda continued to enrich the life of this Unitarian Church. they have served on the board, been active in Women's Alliance and in the religious education program. Frieda is our church historian and record keeper and does many things.
Anna Louise married Unitarian Minister, John Brigham and traveled to various parts of the country while he was serving. they lived in Maine, Masachusetts, Iowa and New York. They then returned to Quincy where John served as our minister until he retired in 1982. Anna Louise became active in our Alliance group, started the "Lunch Bunch," and "Picnics in the Park."
Their son Jeremy was a Unitarian Minister in Arizona and in Iowa. Another son, Daniel was named "unsung hero" for his volunteer work in his church district in New York.
Clare Lily moved to Springfield, Illinois and gave leadership to a small, growing congregation there.
Patsy Rose, who returns to Quincy for every plant sale, was active in the Carbondale and Alton congregations.
Frieda's daughter represents the third generation of the Dege family. She has served as a board member, and was our treasurer for eight years. And her son became a Unitarian minister who served for 25 years in Michigan, New York, and Ohio.
Bertha's offspring continue the tradition of Dege participation in our community. Her daughter has served as president of the board, and her son-in-law was church treasurer for over ten years. their devoted activity toward the annual Plant Sale has been super.
Bertha's grandchildren have been doing plant sales since they could walk. Her grandson and his wife have been our OWL program presenters, providing a valuable service to the young people in our church. And they have presented us with a fifth generation of Deges. Their twins have just turned two years old.
Don't we wish Herman Dege and all the others could come sit in the back row and observe what they started so many years ago? From his immigration to Quincy, Herman Dege's Unitarian spirit spreads out and about keeping alive his basic ideals of Goodness, Truth and Beauty.
The last family we will briefly outline is the Eldred/Morrison family.
The Eldred family lived in Herkimer County New York. In the spring of 1818, the year Illinois became a state, Ward Eldred, age 22, and his cousin Swift Eldred, age 31 left Herkimer County and walked 1500 miles to Illinois. They made a final decision to settle and to move their families to Illinois in 1820. Fourteen Eldred came and settled in what came to be called Eldred, Illinois - a small town that still exists about an hour and a half south of Quincy.
Two generations after Ward came Sam Eldred. Sam met and married Anna Porter in Canton, Illinois in 1862. They moved to Quincy where he was Secretary-Treasurer of the Wabash Coal Company and acting Vice President of the Mercantile Trust and Savings Bank. Sam was one of the founders of the Mercantile Bank, which is still alive and well in Quincy.
The Eldreds built their home at 1454 Hampshire Street. Their daughter Frances was born there and lived in that home almost her entire life.
There is not much mention of Sam Eldred in the church history. The interesting thing is that Frances Eldred, their daughter signed the membership book in 1920 - two years before Annie and Sam did so - not too long before they died. This is a time when I would like a conversation with Frances to find out the particulars about that. It is recorded that Mr. Charles Eldred was chairman of the trustees in 1939 when the centennial year was celebrated. That would be Sam and Anna's son and Frances' brother.
Frances Eldred Morrison attended Lombard College. She graduated with a music degree and then lived in Chicago a short time where she sold pianos.
When Frances moved back to Quincy she met Paul Morrison. Paul Morrison's father was a Methodist minister and they lived many places. Paul graduated from Illinois College in Jacksonville. He came to Quincy to teach history and English at Quincy High School. Paul lived with William Spencer and Shirley Johnson. Shirley was a friend of Frances Morrison's and that is how Paul and Frances met.
They were married in 1924. As a team, the Morrisons made a huge impact on the music community in this town. The administration at QHS decided they needed a band. In 1920, Paul Morrison formed the first band. He went on to develop a strong music department. His bands gained a reputation through the area and won some national contests. His partner Frances was an accomplished pianist. She gave private lessons and accompanied many musicians. the Morrison Theater in Quincy Junior High School is named after Paul and Frances.
Frances Morrison became the church organist after the Johnsons retired. She was very active in King's Daughters, a long-standing women's organization. One cold winter Sunday, the furnace in the church did not turn on. It was cold in here. Frances graciously invited all those in attendance to gather in her living room for the service - she lived across the street and five houses west. And so it happened.
Paul Morrison served on the board and did lots with the building and grounds. With his quiet demeanor he went about doing whatever needed to be done. In reading through the history it seems that several times, "sweat equity" became a necessity as our cash flow was not always strong. Paul Morrison would be right there pitching in.
Paul and Frances Morrison had two children - generation number three for this story. Their daughter joined the church in 1947, but later preferred to be called a friend of the church. She explored many other spiritual avenues. Their son officially became part of the church in 1946, at age 16. He graduated from Monmouth College where he met and married Sandra who had been raised a Presbyterian. They moved to Quincy, and she signed the membership book in 1960. The rest of that story is still in the making.
It is scary when you raise your children to "think for themselves." You hope you give them what it takes to choose what they want in life. Some of it is skill, most of it is luck. Needless to say, we are very glad to have the fourth and fifth generations of this family as part of our Unitarian community. Their daughter's family are members of the Hinsdale Unitarian Church in the Chicago area. She has spoken at our church several times and the minister from her church loves to travel to Quincy and spend time with our congregation.
The saying is that it takes a village to raise a family. From what we have considered today, it seems that it takes a group of compassionate, open-minded, questioning and thoughtful people like those in our congregation to keep the generations of Unitarians on-going. We have a great group of people in our Unitarian community and that makes the future look like a great thing to move toward.
Maybe it's just me - or maybe there is a revival of the need for a liberal religion. I'm cautiously optimistic about the future for a liberal faith. Maybe we've seen the peak of the fundamentalist fervor - a phenomenon that many see as the last gasp of an insecure and fearful people. Maybe, had it not been for September 11, it would already be well on the downhill slide. Events beyond our control affect world fundamentalism - be it Christian, Muslim, Zionist. But we can have a major effect upon what happens here in conservative Quincy. The summer discussion-group time is a transition period for us. We've looked back this morning; let's also look forward to a new year. We are the voice of liberal religion in Quincy. Let's make that voice heard.
"How rare it is, how lovely, this fellowship of those who meet together."
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.
The Rich History of Quincy's Unitarian Church.