Corrected version: Job title of Marla Brown has been changed.
SWANTON — Mary Drew of Swanton was a young child the first time she saw the old and yellowing photo of a white bearded, distinguished man staring back at her.
The man in the photo was her great-grandfather Alpheus Cass, an early settler of what is now known as Swanton, and someone young Mary’s mother often spoke fondly of.
But Mrs. Drew, now 79, didn’t fully appreciate who her great-grandfather was until this last year, when her church, Trinity United Methodist, began preparing for its 150th-anniversary celebration.
It was then that she found that her great-grandfather was among seven early settlers who gathered at the Cass family home on June 1, 1863, to discuss plans to build the first church in the Swanton area.
“I just felt very proud,” Mrs. Drew said. “My mother always talked about him, but I didn’t realize that he was a co-founder.”
More than 100 current and former church members, including Mrs. Drew, are expected to gather at the church at 6 p.m. Sunday to celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the church at 210 N. Main St. in Swanton.
Sunday’s event, which is open to the public, will feature a rededication and candle-lighting ceremony, a special choir performance featuring 35 former church members, and performances by current choir members. Guest speakers will include church Elder Mark Montgomery; Marla Brown, district superintendent of Maumee Watershed District, United Methodist Church; and several descendants of some of the church's co-founders.
Other co-founders included Robert Wiley, James Cornell, Wells Watkins, F.R. Horton, A.J. Allman, and Newton Curtis
The church officially opened in January, 1864, said Jana Broglin, a certified professional genealogist who will present a historical perspective of the church at the anniversary event.
“We have been here before the end of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln was president; before electricity and indoor plumbing; before airplanes and automobiles; before the world wars; before telephones and television; before man on the moon and the International Space Station; before the Internet ... before all of them, we were here,” said Mrs. Broglin, quoting from her presentation speech.
“We were here in the heart of a heavily wooded area but the need for a church for the early settlers was strong.”
Sunday's event was originally scheduled for this last weekend, but it was postponed because of the inclement weather, organizers said. Some of the program’s guests were driving from long distances and likely could not have attended because of the heavy snowfall and icy roads.
During the last year the church has hosted numerous events to celebrate its 150th anniversary, including a potluck and production of a soon-to-be-released cookbook, said Mrs. Broglin, chairman of the sesquicentennial activities. Other committee members included Frances Lee, Gretchen Moffett, MacKenzi Roytek, and Kathy Seigneur.
The original church was built about one-half mile west of Centerville at Airport Highway and State Rt. 64, which is the village's Main Street.
In 1874 the church was relocated to the northeast corner of Main and St. Clair streets.
Under the leadership of Rev. Ormel Shreves, who served as pastor from 1886 to 1888, the decision was made to purchase land at 210 N. Main to construct a new church.
By the time the new church opened on Dec. 1, 1889, the number of parishioners had swelled to 128. The new church cost $4,000 to build.
In late 1891, a fire destroyed the church, which was rebuilt one year later. The new structure featured a large bell tower and wooden pews that are still used in the church parlor, Mrs. Broglin said.
Like many churches, Trinity United Methodist has faced its share of challenges — a fire, financial difficulties, and membership numbers that have risen and shrunk many times throughout the decades. But the congregation always has rallied and found ways to improve, said Mrs. Broglin, who has attended the church for most of her life.
During her research, Mrs. Broglin found that her great-grandmother Lulu Newton and her sister Libbie Newton became official church members in 1890.
The church is like an extended family, always there to help each other through difficult times, she said.
During the years the church has often reinvented itself so that it continues to better serve the community and attract new parishioners.
For example, in 2003 the church began tape-recording its services and delivering copies to people unable to attend church. They also created an “assistance fund” to help community residents in need. In 2007, a group of women and men at the church began a ministry, which they call the “Prayer Shawl.” The group knits shawls for cancer patients who are undergoing chemo treatment, or for people whom congregation members think might be comforted by a shawl.
The congregation’s many good deeds are one reason why Mary Drew loves the church her great-grandfather co-founded. Ironically, she didn’t attend the church until she was an adult.
“I was brought up in a Missionary Alliance Church in Toledo,” Mrs. Drew said. “When I was in eighth grade my parents moved back to Swanton, and I went to a Missionary Church that is no longer there.
“But they preached hell and damnation, and I didn’t want my children brought up that way.”
Now there’s only one reason she still attends the church.
“They preach the Gospel, about Christ,” she said. “That’s the most important thing.”