Thompson: A new purpose for the McCleary Methodist church: Preserving the past

The McCleary Historical Society made an offer to purchase the United Methodist Church building in McCleary. The offer was accepted. At this writing we are just waiting for the paperwork to go through.

By Linda Thompson

For The Vidette

A year ago, I didn’t think this was possible. Now I’m praying it is possible.

The McCleary Historical Society made an offer to purchase the United Methodist Church building in McCleary. The offer was accepted. At this writing we are just waiting for the paperwork to go through.

Last month, this column focused on the early beginnings of the church, the people, the traveling minsters, the ladies’ groups. Fred Soller was the builder, as we stated, but I failed to mention the architect, Joseph H. Wohleb. He also designed the McCleary Hotel and the McCleary Mansion in Olympia.

This is how it was described in “Methodist Church History – a 60-year history”“

“The plans include walks and drives, shrubbery and flowers which will, in time, make the McCleary church a beautiful structure from the exterior as well as from the interior of the building. The main auditorium of the church contains two outside entrances, one from the right, and one from the left, on the end facing the highway. The auditorium contains a choir loft directly behind the pulpit. This is reached from a side entrance which can be reached either from the auditorium or from other parts of the building. On the left of the choir loft is a space for an organ. In the front of the auditorium is the memorial window of beautifully colored inlaid glass, with the lettering, “To the Glory of God and in loving memory of Mrs. Ada L. McCleary.” A series of folding doors open, when needed, making the Women’s Club room additional space for the auditorium. The Women’s Club room contains a large fireplace, above the mantel of which is the beautiful plate glass mirror presented by the Skooter’s Club. A pass window opens from the Women’s Club room into the kitchen, allowing refreshments to be served with little effort.”

The church, today, remains much the same. Our first mayor, Lee Wills, built a beautiful cross that is inlayed in the wall behind the pulpit and is still a part of the décor.

Everyone who has inspected this building for us tells us it is a solid building. It’s 93 years old and in amazingly good condition. That being said, there are serious issues that we have to deal with to actually realize our vision. We are relying on grants and donations to make these improvements.

We are making history and hope everyone will want to be a part of it. The target date for our grand opening is Bear Festival weekend – July 10-12. We will finalize those plans as the date gets closer.

Let’s take a peek back in time for a moment.

The Rev. Thele and members of the board swung into action. As recorded in the history of the church, “At no time in the church history was so much accomplished in so short a period.”

They began by improving the parsonage with a new foundation. They added concrete porches, an enclosed back porch and new cabinet work in the kitchen and bath.

During Mark Farmer’s service in 1957, the three Sunday school rooms were built in the community room, and members of the board laid out and constructed the sidewalk along the side of the church. The lawn was put in by the men, and fertilizer and seed was donated by Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Fleming.

The Rev. Poobus arrived with his family from Michigan in September and that fall, under his supervision, the parsonage was painted on the outside and a carport was planned and constructed with a storage and tool shop built at one end. This was all volunteer labor by church members and much of the material was donated by the Simpson Logging Company. Only materials, such as cement, roofing and paints were paid for by the church. The total cost of this $1,500 structure amounted to $122.42.

In the fall of 1957, it was decided to buy and make use of a nice memorial book. This proved to be a most successful project and brought in more needed funds than any other fundraiser. That idea has carried forward to the present day. Randy Beerbower is creating a video tribute to be running continuously on a screen when the museum is open. This is going to be more than a memorial. It is to honor anyone you want to honor. Details of this will be on our Facebook page or you can contact Randy through our email:

Continuing with the 60-year history writings, we find a number of church men painting the sanctuary. Wallace Moody was operating the spray gun high up on a borrowed scaffold. He also performed the finishing work on the plywood of both the sanctuary and the social hall.

James Reynolds, Howard Christensen, Harry Haskell, Perry Wiseman, Elmer Brockway and some other young helpers get credit for laying the tile.

In the fall, the Sunday school rooms were wired for heaters that were installed by Mr. Gribneau, while N.O. Tarman was credited for rewiring the building.

This overview of the past gives us encouragement for the future. This community has pulled together in the past to accomplish what could only be dreams without their help. We are hoping for the same support.

Vidette columnist Linda Thompson can be reached at