United Methodist Church
As early as 1894 the Methodists had Sunday School and Church services in the Public School building in Okabena. George Stephenson reported in 1940 that he came to Okabena as a boy of 13 in the fall of 1894. School was taught by Mrs. Hattie Pulner and on Sunday she conducted a Methodist Sunday School which he attended.
About the same time, services and Sunday school were being held in the Ward School, later known as the Hovenden School. The American Sunday School Union had established the Sunday with Mr. D. B. Hovenden as superintendent. Later, these two groups consolidated and then the services were held in Okabena. First in the small school which stood where the Mikelson house was later erected, then when a two story, four room schoolhouse was built the upper rooms not needed as classrooms were available and church was held there until the church building was built in 1916.
No exact date has been recorded as to when the Methodist ministers were sent from the Heron Lake charge. Rev. W. H. Irvin, who served from 1908 to 1911, seems to have been the first full time minister. He held services in Heron Lake at 11:00 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. and then 3:00 p.m. in Okabena
Rev. J. A. Saunders succeeded him in 1911 and served the church until 1919. Some of the families who were members in 1916 when the church was built were George Stephenson, D. B. Hovenden, Matt Gentry, Frank Anderson, H. W. DeMoure, Jacob Hesh, Albert Plasterer, Carl Peterson, L. H. Thornburg, A. D. Langworthy, F. G. Barr, Sam Frederickson and E. S. Bonnell.
Shortly after the church was completed the public school was destroyed by fire. The church gave them use of the building and with the Lutheran School building and town hall the children were back continuing their school work after a vacation of two weeks.
Rev. Saunders received a group of 18 young people into membership on November 26, 1916. Rev. Mitchell, who served the congregation from 1919-1921, taught the first confirmation class. From 1921-1927, Rev. W. R. Palmer served the congregation. Rev. J. R. Hitchcock, who served from 1927-1929, succeeded him.
February 1, 1922 an orchestra was organized and played at Sunday services. Members were Mrs. Fred Benson, piano; Wm. Hesh, violin; E. Todd, cornet and Cecil Hovenden, trombone.
During Rev. J. R. Hitchcock's years 1927-29 organizations active in the church were Ladies Missionary Society, M. E. Ladies Aid meetings twice a month. The Kings Heralds for girls and boys met Saturdays at homes. Epworth League, high school youth Sunday School. Annual Ladies Aid social activities were a Fall Bazaar featuring a chicken supper and an Ice Cream Social in the summer.
A vacation bible school was held in June 1929 for 2 weeks with 40 children enrolled with 6 teachers. Rev. and Mrs. Hitchcock, Misses Fay Stephenson, Ruth Hovenden, Dorothy King and Albertine Peterson.
Rev. John J. Hulme served from 1929-1932 and organized the Men’s Brotherhood. They sponsored a Father-Son Banquet at the H. S. Auditorium on February 26, 1930, County Attorney Grollum of Jackson spoke and M. E. Ladies Aid served.
During the years Rev. Theo Mondale (1932-1937) was pastor the choir increased in number and gave concerts in many neighboring churches. Little did they know that their son Fritz would become a Vice-President of the United States.
Rev. Paul Shannon served from 1937-1940. During this time, the Northern Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal South and the Methodist Protestant Church combined to form "The Methodist Church". The Ladies Aid became the Woman's Society of Christian Service.
Credit is given to Rev. Robert W. Duel (1940-48) for the landscaping of the church grounds. During the War years the church tried to keep in touch with the young people in the service. The "Mail Call," a paper containing news of home folks, was sent to servicemen.
Other Pastors who served were Rev. Robert W. Duel from 1940-1948, Rev. Carl W. Mahle from 1948- 1957, Rev. Dudley Keech from 1957-1966, and Rev. Elmer Huchel from 1966-1972. During 1972-73 the church was without a minister but were served by capable District Lay Speakers. Then Rev. Gordon Langmade served here from 1973-1978.
During Rev. Huchel’s term, Bingham Lake was added to make this a three-point charter, with Heron Lake and Okabena. In 1968, the Evangelical United Brethran and Methodist Churches united to become the United Methodist Church.
The Golden Anniversary of the church was celebrated on December 4, 1966. In 1991 the United Methodist Church celebrated its 75th year with a special service, dinner and program.
Succeeding pastors have been Rev. J. Ronald Galer, Rev. Patricia Hinker, Rev. Wayne Swanson and Rev. Lark Carlson.
Rev. Galer was a counselor of Star Lake Wilderness Camp and a director of Decision Hills Camp. He kept busy preaching three sermons on Sunday, presiding at weddings, baptisms and funerals, teaching release time classes and Vacation Bible School, making hospital visits and one Sunday evening a month held vesper services at the Lakeview Nursing Home in Heron Lake.
When Rev. Lark Carlson was appointed to the church, they became a four-point charge with the joining of the Lakefield church.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s, the membership began dwindling. Eventually by 1994 there were as few as 6 or 8 members in church. A membership meeting was held and after much deliberation it was decided to close the Okabena United Methodist Church. On July 2, 1995 the final service was held in the Okabena church followed by a dinner and program.
The congregation did not want to see the church building deteriorate or become used for some other type of activity. Due to the efforts of Robert Hotzler, chairman of the administrative council at that time, it was decided to give the church building to the Pioneer Village in Worthington. The Okabena Church used the funds that were left to pay for the moving of the church to Worthington. Today it is used at Pioneer Village for many different meetings, concerts and even weddings. The land on which the church stood was sold to the Heron Lake-Okabena School district for the sum of $1.00. Today, the Southwest Star Concept School’s new addition stands in its place.
(Okabena's history was provided courtesy of the Okabena Centennial Edition of
The Okabena Press, Jackson County History Books, Jackson County Historical Museum and Tri-County News.)