Country church refuses to fade away

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 26, 2001

STACYVILLE, Iowa – Like old soldiers who never die, only to fade away, so, too, is the fate of country churches.

Saturday, May 26, 2001

STACYVILLE, Iowa – Like old soldiers who never die, only to fade away, so, too, is the fate of country churches.

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Once proud edifices of the countryside, no matter how large or small, so many country churches saw their congregations grow old and die and younger generations willing to drive into town for Sunday worship services.

They became grain bins for farmers or simply withered in the elements and became eyesores. A few survived to be moved to historical sites where they could be properly maintained an appreciated.

Union Presbyterian Church remains where it was built. In the center of a grove of pine trees in the middle of a farmfield northwest of Stacyville, Iowa.

It’s 126 years old this year and opens its doors but once year on Memorial Day weekend.

Don and Dona Ziegler, who live in nearby Lyle, and a few others will not let this country church fade away.

"Dona works a lot on the church," said Don, her husband, "We could let it die or keep it up. We decided to keep it up."

Last summer, the Zieglers and others gave the church its full attention. A new roof was put on the building, the belltower repaired and the church exterior scraped and painted.

Daniel Yost, a Mennonite carpenter, who lives east of Toeterville, Iowa, did much of the work.

The Zieglers’ son, Randy, did more, and another son and his wife, Gary and Cindy Ziegler, still more. The latter erected a flag pole so the American flag will fly over the cemetery’s 80 graves.

Other volunteers pitched in as well as Dale and Theresa Mauer. Dale is the church custodian and cemetery caretaker hired by the association that owns the building and property,

The work was done mainly through contributions raised from the few remaining members of the church, which closed in 1974, or their children and grandchildren.

It was a labor of love. It has always been since the church closed its doors.

Maureen Jackson of Osage, Iowa, watched over the church and promoted the annual Memorial Day weekend open houses for 16 years until declining health forced her to turn over the duties.

After a few years lapsed, the Zieglers made it their life’s work. Don provides the labor. Dona does all that and more. She corresponds with the remaining members and others seeking their interest and support of the church’s preservation.

Dona has written historical groups and even the national Presbytery for assistance.

"We’re located a little too far from Des Moines, I think to get attention from the state," Dona said. She did succeed in getting copies of the official congregational church meetings from the national Presbytery archives in Philadelphia, Pa.

They and other historic pictures and memorabilia are on display this weekend.

Three years ago, the Zieglers held their 50th wedding anniversary in the church.

"It was packed. I never saw so many people at the church," Theresa Mauer said.

Don Ziegler is a sixth-generation member of the church.

"There aren’t many Presbyterians around anymore," Dona said. "There’s Westminster Presbyterian Church in Austin, but the closest one in Iowa is at Rudd, where our sister church is located. Don’s family goes back a long way in the church history."

The church was certified for the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 by the Iowa State Historical Society’s nomination.

Under Mrs. Jackson before them, the Zieglers and maybe as few as six other former church members have been saddled with the daunting tasks of ongoing preservation work through the years.

They have not lost their enthusiasm. They already are planning for more restoration work. The ceiling inside the church sanctuary needs painting, the front steps need resetting and tombstones, which have fallen or broken through the decades must be refinished.

"There’s a lot of preservation work to be done on a project like this. It goes on," Dona said.

"We can only do one thing at a time," Don said.

On Monday, when most of the weekend’s guests are expected, they will find flowers on every grave.

"Everybody gets flowers," Dona said, "A lot of people buried in the church cemetery don’t have any family or other survivors, but we don’t want anyone to go ignored."

Last year’s Memorial Day weekend open house activities attracted the largest crowd in recent years; partly because of the 125th anniversary of the church.

The last burial in the church cemetery occurred in 1999, when Alice Palmer, a member of another of the original church families, was put to rest.

On Thursday afternoon, Dale Mauer was moving the grass in between showers in preparation for Memorial Day’s anticipated crowd. His wife Theresa was dusting pews, while Don and Dona Ziegler performed other tasks to ready the church for guests this weekend.

"It’s funny, you know," Don Ziegler mused. "Nowadays, we have to depend upon the neighbors all around us to do the work. People like the Krebsbachs and they’re all Catholic."

Who will take over when Don and Dona are gone?

"I don’t know," Dona said. "I hope there is somebody to step in and keep it up."

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at