The History of the  Struthers United Methodist Church

Over one hundred years ago, Struthers was still a village with just a few scattered buildings, and Bridge Street was just an ash road. On March 23, 1886,   a small, dedicated group of men and women met at the home of John Mincher to form a Methodist Society. The group was organized by the Rev. J. A. Moore, Pastor of the Hazelton Circuit, with the advice and consent of the Rev. E. A. Simons, Presiding Elder of the Youngstown District of the East Ohio Conference. Mr. Mincher was elected class leader. The group met on the banks of Yellow Creek in a grove of willow trees until they raised enough money to build a church. During the cold of winter, they met in members’ homes.

In those days, church services were as uncomplicated as life in the community itself. There would be preaching every 2 weeks, class meetings every other Sunday, and prayer meetings every Wednesday.  As the year progressed, the churches in Struthers, Lowellville, and Coitsville, found themselves sharing the services of one Pastor, the Rev. Billingsley. From May 1887 to the fall of 1890, services were held in a room over Henry Shaffer’s store on Main Street. When the group grew too large for their meeting room, they moved to an abandoned skating rink near the yellow Creek Bridge. The 40 members at the time organized the Struthers Methodist Episcopal Church. By January of 1890, through the efforts of their members, a modest church building costing $1800 was built on State Street where the Wallace building now stands. The cornerstone for the church had been laid the year prior. A parsonage, costing $2000, was then built at 44 State Street.

As the 1800s reached their end, the Mahoning Valley was rapidly developing into a steel manufacturing district. By 1900, Struthers was officially a “boom town”.  Men seeking work poured into the area from other communities, bringing their families with them. The population increased rapidly, and this increase necessitated the construction of new homes, schools, a business block, and churches.

By September of 1902, the congregation had become an independent charge, and the rapidly increasing membership made the old State Street building increasingly inadequate. In 1909, the lot on which the current church is built was purchased from Narcissa M. Struthers, and a committee began the task of building a new church. They wasted no time, and by 1910, the new church was incorporated.

The new church was built by Crosley and Son, and finished by 1911. The total cost of the new church was $18081.20, and this included the building and all of its furnishings.

The new church was dedicated on July 30, 1911. The Rev. O.D. McKeever was the pastor of the church at this time. There were services throughout the day, and ministers from Niles, Youngstown, and Struthers participated. On this one day alone, the congregation raised $9200 to apply to the debt.

In 1929, the Parsonage was built on the neighboring 51X51 lot. It is the housing for our pastor to this day. This house cost roughly $9500. The former church building and parsonage were then sold.

In 1934, a milestone was reached when the church purchased its 1st organ for $600 from The First Christian Church in Youngstown.  The Rev SS Burnett dedicated the organ in its new home.

In the early 1930’s, the Great Depression became an opportunity for service for the Struthers church. The church took part is sharing the responsibility for dispensing food and clothing to those in need, giving hope to for the future when there often seemed to be none.

“Struthers Methodist Church” became our official name in June of 1940. This decade saw the United States once more forced into having to send her young men off to war. WWII was a difficult time for the country, and the Struthers community, but the church continued to be a source of spiritual strength. Many found comfort in the church, especially with the uncertainty of not knowing the fate of many involved in the fighting. We take for granted today the ability to instantly send messages across the world, even from areas of heavy military activity. In those days, messages could take weeks, or even months to reach home from overseas. Sometimes a message would be received from a loved one days, or even weeks following the notification of their death in the war. There was a lot of heartbreak in those days, and all of the area churches helped provide comfort and support to those mourning unimaginable loss.

The financial prosperity of the 1950’s helped us, all too easily, forget the wartime tragedy upon which it was built. In the post war days, families around the nation turned to the church in unprecedented numbers. They came to rejoice in an improved standard of living in a post-depression world, which they thought would go on forever. Our church membership had expanded to approximately 1000 members, and the church soon found it necessary to expand the church’s school facilities. The crusade for funds began under Dr. J.H. Soltman, resulting in cash and pledges amounting to $70,481. The cost of the education annex was more than $120,000. This number is astonishing, given that the church originally cost only $18.081. At the groundbreaking ceremony, you never saw so many hands shovel so little dirt! The dedication of the annex took place in 1956, with the Rev. John Freiling as pastor. 

The church also bought a new Baldwin organ, which was dedicated on Christmas Sunday, December 23, 1951.

In 1968, the Methodist Church joined the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and we adopted the name that is still ours today, “The Struthers United Methodist Church”.

Unfortunately, the boom of those days faded, and steel production in the Valley largely ended. On “Black Monday”, September 19, 1978, LTV (Youngstown Sheet and Tube Campbell Works) shut down. By 1990, not even a trace of the blast furnaces or coke plants was left. In those days, with unemployment at its highest rate since the Great Depression, and families forced to leave this area where there was once more work than workers, the church faced some of its greatest challenges. As always, they face these problems with faith, and a sense of service to others.

Many changes have taken place to the church since it was first dedicated in 1911. That early church had no altar, no baptismal fount, no chancel rail, and no organ. They had only the pulpit, which is the same one in service today, a small table for ministering the baptismal and communion sacraments, and a piano. One other prominent change is hanging in the narthex in the form of a lovely quilt made in 1984 to commemorate 250 years of Methodism in the United States. We also have added a beautiful communion service set given in memory of “Grandma” Laverne Cox, a beloved long time member of the church who passed away in 2013. We added a new roof to the church in July 2005, at the cost of $53.400.

Worship is at the core of our faith and as a church we try to discover God’s will for our lives, and carry out His will. We know that the church is so much more than just a building, and that being a member of the church is to be a member of God’s family, but having such a beautiful sanctuary certainly enhances our worship services. Coming to our church definitely conveys a real sense of coming home.

Our church believes in taking the mission of Jesus Christ into the world, and in helping those in need. Throughout the years we have participated in the Food Pantry, our Canfield Fair booth, beef tips and noodle dinners, cream chicken and biscuit dinners,  soup and salad luncheon, Bible studies, various women’s and men’s groups, Choir, quilters, and a variety of youth activities, Good fellowship is enjoyed by all. Our youth also participate the annual Youth Mission Trips, during which our youth (along with adult helpers) give up a week of their summer vacations to travel to an area hit hard by economic conditions, or natural disasters, and help people by repairing their homes, and by spreading the message of the love of Jesus Christ. Our future is certainly in good hands with these young people leading the way to the future.

The Canfield Fair project began more than 60 years ago. The idea was brought to the attention of Man Sing Sunday School class 53 years ago, where it was voted upon and approved as a fund raiser to support the class approved projects, which included: a substantial pledge to the church, Thanksgiving baskets to older people of the church, (which reached 105 homes at one point) and other benevolent causes which were brought before the class, voted on, and approved.

The first fair booth was made of aluminum and glass with a wooden floor, and was stored under the stage in Wesley Hall in the off-season. The 2nd booth was an old house trailer. This trailer was destroyed in a fireworks explosion at the location where it was stored for the winter.

The current booth was then constructed as a replacement.

The church booth first appeared at the Fair in 1962. Across from the Big Rock” has been our fair address, every year, from the beginning. Our menu has remained much the same, French fries, hot dogs, Coney dogs, coffee, ice cold soft drinks, milk, doughnuts, bottled water, cheese fries, and the best sloppy Joes at the fair.

Throughout the years, the equipment has been updated and the original standard of cleanliness and fair pricing has combined to make the S.U.M.C. booth a top notch operation.

In 1987, we celebrated our 25th anniversary.

The early organizers were determined to make it work, and it did. The 1st year yielded a profit of just over $400. Since that rather modest beginning, the church has realized an estimated $200,000 from their participation at the fair. No price can be put on the fun and fellowship of the many, many volunteers who work each year, making the project a success.

In the year 2012, we celebrated 50 years at the fair. The church prides itself not only on their great food and speedy service, but also on the affordable prices for families enjoying the fair. Many familiar, friendly faces visit the booth every year for a sloppy Joe and a smiling face. Pastor Doug Theobald always reminds the volunteers that the Struthers United Methodist Church considers our presence at the fair to be not only a fund raiser, but also an outreach to the community.

As Christians, our church, our community, and our world are our family. We are all children of God, called to serve Him by caring for one another. At times, this means providing food to our neighbors who are in need. A food pantry was organized back in the difficult days following the closing of the LTV Steel plant on Black Monday in September of 1977.

One of our church’s former ministers, Rev Robert Dietrich, served as President of the Mahoning Valley Food Bank. He encouraged the church to begin a program of its own. The Chairperson of our Administrative Board wrote o the property manager of LTV expressing our needs. Permission was given to dismantle and transport to out church a walk in cooler and freezer used in the office cafeteria at LTV. A crew of 30 men numbered and then took apart both units, and reassembled them in the west end of Wesley Hall. Guidelines for food distribution were established by the Federal Government. Our church was assigned Struthers 44471 as our responsibility. There were 2 food distributions every month, and every family that signed up was eligible to receive food twice per month.

Contributions were received by the members of the church, the United Way of Struthers, the USDA, the Ohio Food Program, many local agencies, local schools, AARP, 2 veteran’s associations, and the Struthers Rotary.

This program made a huge difference in the lives of people at a time of extreme difficulty.

Sadly, our food pantry was forced to close in 2005. A lack of manpower and skyrocketing costs and expenses led to this unhappy decision. All of the food that was left in the pantry was donated to other churches, and to the United Methodist Community Center.

In 2003 we lost the services of Head Start, and this cost our church approximately $20,000 per year in funding, (we had this program in our church for 10 years) Fortunately, God provides, and during this time we were fortunate enough to receive an endowment in the form of the Hathaway endowment fund in the amount of $77,000.

In 2005, a new roof was required for the church, costing $53.400. The funds for this came from our Memorial Fund and the Hathaway Fund.

During this time we had a mixture of full and part time ministers.

In the year 2007, under the leadership of Rev, Suzanne S. Hill, a much needed handicap accessible ramp was added to the church at a cost of $20,379. Money was donated my members of the church, groups, businesses, and various foundations purchasing bricks “in honor of”, and “In loving memory of” loved ones. The ramp was dedicated on April 29, 2007.

In the renovation for the handicapped accessible ramp, we found a 30 year old offering envelope, with the offering still inside, that had somehow fallen behind a baseboard that had to be removed for a new door at the top of the ramp! What an amazing surprise!

In 2007/2008, a window replacement program was begun for the education wing of the church, costing $23,000. The men of the church worked long and hard in replacing these windows. In 2009, another window replacement fund was started to replace windows in Fellowship Hall, the Kitchen, and the Church Office, at a cost of $14,000. Members made donation of $300 “in memory of” or “in honor of” a love one, for each window. A coin jar was also placed in the back of the church for members to drop their change in, and you would be surprised how just a little change can add up.   

The Prayer Shawl Ministry began in 2008. The 1st Prayer Shawl Ministry was started in Connecticut, then was introduced to the Manchester United Methodist Church in St Louis, and was then passed on to the Roscoe United Methodist Church in Coshocton, Ohio, from where one of our members, Pastor Cora Lee Cox,  brought the idea to our church. A prayer shawl is a soft, warm shawl, knitted or crocheted, which is prayed over by the church, and blessed by our pastor. The shawls are given to those in need; someone suffering from an illness, or a loss, or who may be in the midst of a crisis. We recently celebrated the creation and gifting of our 750th prayer shawl. The ladies of the church have not stood still, proud of that achievement though. They are now over 780, and working hard to get to 800 prayer shawls sent out to people in need

As of 2015, over 780 prayer shawls have been created, blessed, and distributed.

A beautiful commemorative plaque was created, dedicated, and hangs in our sanctuary, which proclaims the 750 shawls which have been given out so far. This ministry shows no signs of slowing down thanks to the endless work of all involved.

In 2009, it was decided that the Cross and backdrop that hung in the pulpit needed to be replaced. The Trustees researched the prices, and found that it would cost $800-$1000 to buy one that was ready to be inserted into the space. Instead they decided that they would purchase oak and design and make it themselves. The total cost was only $50! When we see that beautiful cross, which is the symbol of Christianity, we are reminded of hos Jesus Christ was hung and died on the original cross for our sins. See the beautiful Cross and the commemorative plaque by clicking these links. The cross and backdrop were created and built by Max Crawford, and were installed by Max, Ron Kotch, Chuck Pompeii, DeWayne Mclain, Larry Conzett Jr., and Pastor Doug Theobald on May 18, 2009. What a beautiful addition to our church!

It is hard to imagine what life must be like for our young women and men serving overseas in military actions in hostile lands. In 2009, the church began a new ministry that assembles and delivers care packages to the service persons we had addresses for.  Once more the church donated, and assembled the materials for these care package style boxes. The 1st shipment was 20 boxes. The appreciation of the recipients was overwhelming, and it was decided that this small act on our part should continue indefinitely. This wonderful ministry delivered another 40 boxes on Easter of 2010, and continues to do so each year.

In the spring of 2010, a new challenge came before the congregation. It was decided that we needed cushions for the pews. This project cost $5010. The first donation was made from the memorial fund in the amount of $2500, and was made in memory of one of our long standing members. The members of the church, as is their history, stepped u and donated the other $2510. Not only are the new cushions very beautiful, they make the wood pews much more comfortable to sit in!

Our Youth Group is a vital and incredible ministry, with the youth showing that they are indeed ready to work for Jesus, and lead the church into a wonderful future. They have raised funds for their various ministries through car washes, pie sales, sub sandwich sales, bake sales,  have donated to Habitat for Humanity and the rescue Mission, and have gone on numerous mission trips to help those less fortunate. They participate in the Annual Youth Conference during the East Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which is held every year at Cedar Point and Lakeside, Ohio.

Under the leadership of Pastor Theobald, Youth Mission Trips began in the summer of 2010. The Struthers United Methodist Church Youth Group, Struthers United Methodist volunteers, and volunteers and youth from several other area churches give up a week of their summer vacation to go out and do the work of Jesus Christ, helping those in need, and spreading the Good news of Jesus Christ. (and for many it is much more than just a week, given all of the planning that goes into each trip)  The Youth Group has helped people in Dungannon, VA, Conneaut, OH, Wilkes Barre and Scranton PA, Marion VA,  Syracuse, NY, and in 2015 traveled to Saltville, VA to help those in need.

Many thanks to all of those who have contributed to the compilation of the history of the church, and to our Church Historian, Bev Raybuck for her tireless efforts in making sure our history is always remembered.

The Pastors of the Struthers United Methodist Church

Rev. JA Moore: Match 1886 to Sept 1886
Rev AM Billingsley: Sept 1886 to Sept 1889
Rev JC Burt: Sept 1889 to Sept 1892
Rev TR Yates: Sept 1892 to Sept 1893
Rev WC Evans: Sept 1893 to Sept 1894
Rev TJ Post: Sept 1894 top Sept 1896
Rev FL Swaney: Sept 1896 to Sept 1898
Rev David Davies: Sept 1898 to Sept 1900
Rev NH Miller: Sept 1900 to Sept 1903
Rev WK Yingling: Sept 1903 to Sept 1905
Rev M. Moses: Sept 1905 to Sept 1906
Rev TH Armstrong: Sept 1906 to Sept 1908
Rev OD McKeever: Sept 1909 to Sept 1911
Rev WP Baxter: Sept 1911 to Sept 1913
Rev SA Peregoy: Sept 1913 to Feb 1916
Rev MJ Slutz: Feb 1916 to Sept 1916
Rev JD Kaho: Sept 1916 to Sept 1917
Rev HF Patterson: Sept 1917 to Dec 1921
Rev WJ Jones: Jan 1922 to Sept 1923
Rev AG Rupert: Sept 1923 to Sept 1926
Rev AA Reavly: Sept 1926 to Sept 1927
Rev Virgil Turner: Sept 1927 to Sept 1930
Rev ES Collier: Sept 1930 to Sept 1933
Rev WW Johnson: Sept 1933 to July 1934
Rev James F Ward: July 1934 to Sept 1934
Rev SS Burnett: Sept 1934 to Sept 1942
Rev CF McBride: Sept 1942 to Sept 1945
Rev LE Rothrock: Sept 1945 to June 1951
Rev JW Freiling: July 1951 to June 1957
Rev Harry Carney: June 1957 to June 1960
Rev RL Krepps: July 1960 to July 1964
Rev Lawrence G Miller: July 1964 to Sept 1969
Rev David W Yoost: Nov 1969 to July 1978
Rev William C Creasy: July 1978 to July 1982
Rev Robert R Dieterich Jr: July 1982 to July 1987
Rev Lawrence D Bryan: July 1987 to July 1990
Rev Jacquelyn Russell-Shepherd: July 19901 to June 1992
Rev Gerald Carl: June 1992 to June 1997
Rev Jeannie M Winters: June 1997 to June 2003
Rev Kathryn Burke: June 2003 to July 2004
Rev Michael McHale: July 2005 to January 2008
Rev Suzanne Hill: July 2005 to January 2008
Rev Don Kraps: February 2008 to July 2008
Rev Charles Ready: July 2008 to October 2008
Rev Bruce Irwin: October 2008 to April 2009
Rev Doug Theobald: May 2009 to Present

Personal Recollections From Church Members , Recorded in 1976

It is interesting to know the location of the early church. It was located on State Street between the Wallace Building and the Schwartz Building. It was set up on a hill, and there were about 18 steps leading up to the front door. State Street extended to Macejko Bros. gas station. The church held Sunday worship services, Sunday School, and Junior League in this building.

In the early 1900s, the church held church picnics in Lincoln Park.  The park had a covered pavilion, and has rest room facilities. Few people had cars in those days, so a member of the congregation named Fred Bird fixed up a moving van he owned, and added benches so members could ride to the park in style! Children were always excited to see Council Rock in Lincoln park, where Indians are reputed to have met and had a pow-wow.

The church also held picnics at Southern park. The members would take a street car to Youngstown. At Front Street, they would take the Southern Park street car to the park. The park was located about 1 mile south of Western Reserve Rd, on Market Street. As has happened to so many things from that day, the park has long since been dismantled.

Crosley and Sons were in charge of the construction of the present church building. (Before the education wing addition) William Norling, age 80 at the time of the original recording of his memories, remembers helping put bricks on the scaffolding when the church was being built. Rev. Keever was the pastor at the time. The church sold bricks at the cost of $0.25 each to help pay for the building. People subscribed to pay for the windows, and names were added to each window “in honor of”, or “in memory of” a particular person. Weather took its toll on the names, with repainting the windows making it impossible to see the individual names, so eventually the list of names was engraved on a plaque, and it hangs in the back of the church to this day.

According to Mr. Norling, within a few years after the church was built, they would have 300-400 people attending Sunday School, and Church, especially around Easter and Christmas. When questioned about the number, Mr Norling said; “Remember there was only the Methodist, Presbyterian, and 1 Catholic Church in Struthers.”

The Altar (comments believed to have been recorded around 1976)

There have been many changes to the altar in the past 50 years as I have known it.  The reason for some of the pictures in this book (an album of historical images of the church)  is so that people will note the changes.

The 1st I remember was a round altar with 2 steps at either end. A pulpit was placed in the center of the platform. There was no organ, but a piano, and 3 leather chairs sitting in the alcove. (We called them the King and Queen chairs) There was no carpet. The choir sat in the same place the present one does, however there was a railing in front of where they sat, with a curtain attached. There was a gaslight hung on the wall.

Later an improvement was made in front of the altar, placing large brass poles at either end of the platform, with a white globe on top. Communion rails were rickety, and stored in a room until I was time for communion.

The walls were painted a dingy color, always painted with a stencil.

Many lovely memorials have been given. They include:

Collection Plates
Stand for the Bible
Vigil Light
Cross hanging in the downstairs hallway
Hymn books (copyrighted)
Altar cloths
Communion Set
The Organ