“From the Corner of St. Johns and Emerson to Barber Street: 100 Years of the Ithaca Church of God, 1918-2018″ Part II: Putting Down Roots During Boom and Depression, 1921-1943”

Lewis copy 1953.jpgLewis copy 2 1963.jpg

Above: Pastors George and Effie Lewis in 1955; “George Lewis, This is Your Life” at Ithaca High School, 1961.

         Under Reverend Lewis’ work, the Ithaca Church of God congregation slowly grew in numbers. The times were not easy. The 1920s were generally a “boom time” economically for parts of the nation, however, it presented many social problems and challenges. Gratiot County had an active Ku Klux Klan unit from 1922-1930 and made appearances in Ithaca. The 1920s were also the period of Prohibition and Ithaca dealt with illegal liquor, bootleggers and the quest to “stay dry.” Diseases such as tuberculosis, scarlet fever, and diphtheria were present and claimed the lives of both young and old in Gratiot County. By the end of the decade, an economic crash took place, unlike anything that was ever seen in the county’s history.

         Throughout the period Reverend Lewis faithfully continued his work as a pioneer minister. At one point during the Depression, a motion was made by some in the young Ithaca congregation to raise his pay ( from $ 3 a week to $4) because some felt that their pastor should not be the lowest paid minister in Ithaca. At the start of the Depression, Lewis listed his occupation as “working on own account” or “decorator” and he still carried out his duties as pastor. The Lewis family also had a member who lived with them for fourteen years that would be devoted to the Ithaca church throughout her life: Miss Lottie Ruehle. After her mother died, Lottie came as a young lady to live with the Lewis family.  She was devoted to the church and was known to many in Ithaca because she was one of the Ithaca’s telephone operators.

         In 1937, a 12 by 30-foot addition was added to the south side of the Chapel. Another addition was made in 1940 in similar size to the north side in order to give the congregation more Sunday school room. By this time, people began to know this place of worship as “The Little Brown Church.” The church was growing in size but it still lacked one thing throughout this part of his story: it needed places to park.   Throughout this part of its history people had to park up and down the streets in front of the church in order to find a place to park their cars.

        Through all of this, Reverend and Mrs. Lewis faithfully oversaw the growth of this church. During the summer of 1942, Reverend Lewis resigned as the pastor but stayed on until a new one was hired in early 1943. After leaving the Ithaca church, he served as a supply minister in the county.  On October 16, 1955, the church held a special service to honor their work.  After Reverend Lewis’ sermon, the church had a formal presentation for the shrubbery that was planted along three sides of the church. It was dedicated as a living tribute to Lewis’s work and service.   In the years after they left, many in and around Ithaca continued to call on “Pastor Lewis” for help such as funerals. He continued to be well respected and wrote a regular column for the Gratiot County Herald right up until his passing.

         In September 1961 Reverend Lewis was a guest of honor at a surprise “This is Your Life” program that was held at the high school. Three hundred people turned out to pay tribute to Reverend Lewis in the words of then Pastor Earl Van Sipe as “minister, counselor, community figure and beloved friend of many hundreds in Gratiot County.” It was said that Lewis had married approximately 500 couples and conducted 1,000 funerals. “The Little Brown Church” had been launched and was on its way as it entered the 1940s, new pastoral leaders came and the church faced and endured another world war.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

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