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The “Y”

Even towns of moderate size had a “Y”, especially those with railway workers. From the railroad’s point of view, the “Y” was a stabilizing element for a largely unmarried work force. In addition to clean beds, nourishing meals, and the punctuation of periodic prayer, these facilities provided recreation — billiards, cards, etc. — that kept the men out of pool halls and taverns and got them to work on-time and sober.

The cost of these facilities was borne by two sources: churches (usually Protestant and more often than not Methodist) and the railroads themselves. This is an image of the railway “Y” owned and operated by the Big Four at Mt Carmel, Illinois:

railway-y

Sometimes they strove for an institutional look; sometimes aping the shapes of overgrown houses — as in this case. But they were usually near the depot, roundhouse, rail yard complex where the men worked, probably for a combination of supervision and convenience.

Agincourt’s “Y” was church affiliated: a joint venture among several denominations, but located immediately north of the Methodist church. Built about 1908, it eventually connected directly with the 1920 church constructed next door.

Creation

The thrust of this blog has been a review of the complex circumstances resulting in Agincourt’s creation. Engaged for ten years on this project, I have a pretty good idea from whence it came and what it means — mostly to me; you’ll have to share your own experience. During the last few weeks and also at a studio critique about fifteen years ago, I encountered a very different understanding of the word “creation” and what it has increasingly coming to mean in public discourse.

A couple weeks ago I passed through the student union at my place of employment, where a few student groups were in the process of setting up a gauntlet of tables along a principal corridor, hawking various things, including ideas. One of them was a student geology club that has a sale each year (just before Christmas) of mineral specimens that might make interesting stocking-stuffers. I habitually stop to consider their assortment of geodes, which I’m gathering for inclusion in a stained glass window for the bathroom. This year’s crop were small and mostly colored artificially, so not of much interest.  Not wanting to seem dismissive about their display, I lingered a little longer than my interest level justified, and then asked a casual question. Be careful about casual questions; they often provoke answers well beyond your comfort zone.

“Is it possible to be a Young Earth geologist,” I inquired, more rhetorical than actual inquiry. “Yes!” one of them chirped with gusto, “Both of us are.” I teach at what purports to be a major research institution, at which I understand there to be supporters of Donald Trump, so it ought not to have surprised me to find the followers of Bishop Ussher hereabouts as well. But it did. I blinked several times, swallowed hard, smiled meekly, and spun toward the nearest exit, lest I engage in actual discussion about our views on Creation. What I took away from that brief experience was the nagging question of my retirement from Higher Learning, because there is clearly something else going on here.

jamesussher-2c

Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656)

For those unacquainted with the good bishop, James Ussher was Primate of All Ireland in the Church of Ireland, Irish counterpart to the Church of England (i.e., under the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury). And it was he who undertook to calculate the actual moment of Creation, determined after considerable deep reading of the Old Testament and other ancient sources to have been:

nightfall on 22 October 4004 BC

Many say that it was more specifically at 6:00 p.m., though I’m not certain in what time zone. At any event, it was a Saturday and clearly God had little else to do and may have been bored silly. I’ve had Saturdays like that myself. The questions in my mind manifold:

To what degree, for example, is Creation Science present in greater Agincourt?

Has it become an issue in public discourse? That is, has someone stood at a School Board meeting to demand equal time for Intelligent Design in the curricula of the public schools?

Is it even remotely possible that baker of wedding cakes or fixer of leaky pipes or purveyor of annuities brought suit to remove themselves from commerce with those who support the Theory of Evolution?

The foundation for these questions actually emerged as the result of a Second Year design studio, where I had been invited to review a design project. Philippe d’Anjou, a Québécois fellow faculty member of fifteen years or so ago. Philippe had assigned a project to create a space for the contemplation of the skull of Lucy, the purported Missing Link in the evolutionary chain. These were group projects as I recall, with perhaps two student in each group, and their models were large enough for a single person to sit within and focus their attention on Lucy’s cranium.

The solutions were lukewarm at best; half-hearted; non-committal. In other words, they sucked big green ones, by and large. Not all of them were dismal but the majority were. During a break in the festivities, I asked Philippe if I might ask a general question of the students. “How many of you,” I asked naively, “don’t support the Theory of Evolution?” Two thirds of their hands were raised with pride and no hesitation whatsoever. “Well, Philippe, there’s your problem.” He looked at me quizzically. “You might as well have asked them to design spaces to contemplate a hard-boiled egg.” Philippe, you’ll recall, is French Canadian and comes from a place where Creation Science may still be living beneath a rock.

On the book of faces I subscribe to the feed from a group called “Theist-Atheist Discussion—Please be nice,” which, of course, means that very few are civil in their exchanges. I don’t linger in those discussions, and indeed rarely contribute to them, because it can get quite nasty. But I stay subscribed because it is sobering to be reminded how widespread ID has become in 21st century thinking. And how frightening I find it on the eve of the Age of Trump.

[#892]

A³S

The Agincourt Academy of Arts and Sciences

aaas

Our Age isn’t Dark quite yet, but it is growing dimmer by the day, as politicians deny the prospect that the Anthropocene has taken an irremediable toll on the planet. Critical Thinking is under attack, as is Higher Education itself, and the Arts — one of our primary modes of personal expression — and Independent Journalism are criticized for their un-American negativity, with the promise of “consequences” for egregious acts of deviance from the Party Line. These related phenomena are easily observable in major centers of intellectual discourse (university campuses like Harvard and Berkeley) and concentrations of high culture (e.g., New York City). But surely they are manifest on Main Street. It’s time to establish the Agincourt Academy of Arts & Sciences and imagine its role in the trenches of what has already become intellectual warfare.

What might have been the Academy’s origins? How has it shaped (or at least tried to shape) public discourse? Does it have a future in Trump’s Amerika? Time to find out.

Industry

Agincourt’s earliest industries were situated in the southwest quadrant, a flood plain where Crispin Creek joins the Muskrat. The Syndicate Mills were built there in 1868, tapping the river’s waterpower by means of side-shot water wheels. Various enterprises were housed in its three timber-framed floors: a planing mill and window manufactory, a wagon wheel maker, a maker of tarpaulins, most of which were bought within the region before arrival of the railroad

syndicate mill001

The Syndicate Mills were built in two phases, each with a pair of side-shot wheels.

A few other enterprises locate there in separate buildings, including Anton Kraus’s forge and the foundry that his sons established a few years later. This area was a short walk from a neighborhood of workers’ houses (single-family and boarding for single men), but its growth was hampered by occasional flooding. So by 1890 new manufacturing facilities shifted to the Muskrat’s west bank and its employees used the new railway trestle for access.

A cluster of modest (and fire-prone) houses crowded the western edge of the original townsite.

Turn-of-the-century enterprises were larger on the west bank, an area known as Industry, and served by Milwaukee Road spurs and, after 1909, by the new trolley system. A full history of Industry remains to be written, but it included a plant for canning locally-grown vegetables marketed under the brand “Fresh-Pict”.

canning-factory

Meaningfulness 1.1

What do you call two words — a binary pair — that seem to mean the same thing, but don’t? That appear to be interchangeable, but aren’t. If it’s not a figure of speech, it ought to be. My world the last few years has been shaped by such binary pairs, pairs like: seeing ≠ looking; intimacy ≠ sex; spirituality ≠ religion; justice ≠ the law; power ≠ control; closure ≠ cloture; education ≠ training; drama ≠ theater; being careful ≠ being cautious; acceptance ≠ resignation; knowing contentment ≠ knowing happiness. The last pair harken to Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning. I was one year old at the time of publication, but couldn’t read. If only, I could have avoided a lot of couch time.

contentment-sign-of-a-true-believer

Among the simple truths I’ve learned through guided introspection is this: Happiness is rare and, frankly, an unnatural condition. If it were the norm — if happiness were the baseline of our emotional lives — I shudder to consider the cost of its maintenance, both financial and psychological. We see it everywhere. It’s on T.V. Hell, it is T.V. It’s at movie theaters and it sells there because the audience want to adapt the artifice on the screen as their daily lives. Films are a “How To” manual for happiness. But it simply can’t be done, and the avoidance of that truth keeps the psychological profession in business. I should know.

The binary pair that was a subject for discussion in many sessions with Dr Bob was Contentment–Happiness, because the first half of that pair is far easier to achieve and far less costly to maintain. And while I have learned that about contentment, I haven’t fully mastered its sustenance. Here you may logically concern yourselves with another pair: Acceptance–Resignation.

Contentment is far easier to attain than full blown happiness, but don’t conflate it with second-rate happiness: Happiness Lite. I accept contentment as a natural condition but it is hardly neutral. From that platform I may occasionally reach the heights of joy, but I can also see the abyss that Depressives know is just a misstep away. And, by and large, it’s sustainable. My contentment has been shaken, however, by the very place that allows me to experience and sustain it; the place that has been my primary source of contentment: l’acadême.

Outside Looking In

April Yamasaki, pastor of a Protestant congregation in British Columbia, has blogged about attendance at academic conferences and her sense of being an impostor in the midst of “real” academics. From her I learned of “Impostor Phenomenon” and finally have a label to identify my situation for the last forty-five years.

The academic world is vastly different than it was in the fall of 1971, as I drove a U-haul truck into Fargo. The job offer was (I learned later) an act of desperation on the department’s part when the candidate they really wanted backed out. I was one of five new faculty in a department of nine. We could have had faculty meetings in the corner booth at Country Kitchen. The chair changed and Old Main might as well have installed a revolving door. And toward the end of my sixth year I was tenured. That is standard practice; what isn’t is that I have no recollection of making application. Because I didn’t. Tenure and a promotion (from Instructor to Assistant Professor) simply happened.

Something similar happened with the shift from Assistant to Associate. But the character of Higher Ed has changed dramatically, become far more bureaucratic. There’s an on-line form for everything and an on-line admonition and what to expect for fucking up. But whether on the old “Mom & Pop” system or the new-but-not-necessarily-improved version, one thing is true:I have always been on the outside looking in.

The Academy and I are a bad fit. Identification of the “Impostor Phenomenon” has come along just in time to bolster my sense of meaningfulness.

Meaningfulness

meaning-of-love

Reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning was an “assignment” from my first therapist, someone in the student health service at the University of Oklahoma whose name I have long ago forgotten. Which means, if you do the math, that I’ve been on and off the analyst’s couch for nigh unto fifty years. Others will judge whether that time was well invested (mine and the therapist’s); I’m of the opinion that it takes as long as it’s going to take. Though Frankl died in 1997, an interest in meaningfulness, the titular topic of Man’s Search…, is enjoying a revival, witness an article in The Atlantic that is making the rounds on social media. It’s time to reread the book.

I was about to hyperbolize that there are a bazillion quotes from Man’s Search for Meaning but “Goodreads” lists just 683. It’s not the number of quotations that matters, however; what does matter is the one quote from among those six hundred-plus that offers insight required by this very moment of your life. By the way, the text in the graphic above continues on the next page and, importantly, adds some reciprocity: it concludes “…potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

Meaningfulness itself is the core of Frankl’s text. [But so it is at the core of Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life”.] And its binary opposite is an even longer word, purposelessness, for which “Goodreads” offers only seven quotes. It’s curious that, at the age of seventy-one, the meaning of my own life is still elusive. So this should have been titled “Meaningfulness 1.0” because there will be a follow-up.

Dear Reader:

“Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber? […] Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.” (4.7.4-6) — Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

amber

Dear, dear Reader—

The new year is just four weeks away and with it comes the tenth anniversary of this enterprise. Both retro- and introspection seem in order.

“Agincourt” grew from an innocuous question, the sort that occur to persons like myself with a prurient interest in architectural history. By now it’s all too familiar: Can I imagine a Carnegie-era public library designed by Louis Sullivan? As the question took shape, I innocently thought myself capable of an enlightened guess; the last nine years have proved otherwise.

What emerged from that question, though, was something entirely unexpected, a complete surprise. In snooty academic terms it became an exploration of the relationship between narrative and design; between story-telling and place-making. And what ought to have been a very personal journey morphed into a collaboration that seemed without limit. Colleagues, students, and friends; artists, craftspeople and composers; all came to play in the sandbox of history. To tell a story or design a building or landscape, but neither without the other. Several seminars, design studios, and exhibitions later, the Agincourt Project had become too complex for me to keep track. Hence, this blog which began in September 2010 to document its past and future. This will be blog entry #880.

Why I continue the project is a mystery. Beyond some measure of personal satisfaction, a handful of people visit the blog [just six are “registered” subscribers] and I recall about the same number have commented, though there may be no overlap between those groups. All that feedback — there is actually very little — has been welcome and helpful. One in particular makes me smile: the story of Swedish emigrant Nina Köpman resonated with a graduate of many years ago who shared the remarkably parallel story of his own grandmother. That morsel of vindication kept me going for months.

Another anniversary is about to pass (my seventy-second birthday) which causes me to wonder about Agincourt’s role in the remainder of my life. There is a third projected exhibit on the horizon (at Grinnell College in the Fall of 2017) and so many more fragments of the story that I need to write or design or fabricate. And I intend to follow through with that, if for no other reason than Agincourt needs to go “on the road.” And to prove wrong one of the project’s critics, who has questioned its academic value and/or merit.

There is talent on my radar, people I know who get it; whose creativity would add dimension to what looks (as far as this blog is concerned) like a one-man band playing a single repeated note. But I fear (with apologies for the rhyme) that my periodic bludgeon has generated more than a little dudgeon. Would people prefer I went away or at least STFU.

My bucket list includes a number of projects, all vying for the top slot, and each of them occupies that spot for a while. But Agincourt is the only one which satisfies two criteria: 1) it involves actual design — I am, after all, educated as an architect — and 2) it has been collaborative, though not to the degree I might have hoped but still holds out that potential.¹ I’m not quite ready to push away from the table.

The invitation is still open. Come and play. Bring your shovel and bucket or we can provide them. Scratch the itch that’s been nagging you for years. Tell a story of small-town life in Middle America and show us its consequences. It’s therapeutic, I can attest.

¹ There is a little irony here. My graduate thesis ought to have been a design project, but I was afraid of design and chose instead to write one; and now I avoid various writing projects by using the design of Agincourt as an excuse. Go figure.

Postcards from the edge

loop

A postcard from the edge

encouragement for a friend on the eve of Election 2016

When I was half your age, young and naive, America was still home to Ozzie and Harriet. Father still knew best. At least he did in a small blue-collar suburb on the edge of Chicago.

But on Saturdays, I’d take the bus into the city and explore; pick a line and ride to its end, watching the subtle shifts from one neighborhood to the next. Chicago was and still is a city of ethnic enclaves centered on their church and culture. Mass was still in Latin, but the rest of the early services were conducted in Lithuanian or Spanish or the Polish that my grandmother knew but wouldn’t teach me.

Looking back, I believe those years may have been the model for making America Great Again. Every dad was a union member and worked at the plant; sons joined him right after graduation. The future held promise. At fifteen, I honestly thought things would just get better and better; I couldn’t imagine how good.

My budding interest in architecture, especially the early works of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, took me to inner-city neighborhoods where all was not idyllic. I remember seeking Sullivan’s home for his brother Arthur and finding myself the only white person on the bus. As I stood on Lake Park Avenue in front of a decaying building — it has long since been demolished — a half dozen Black kids noticed me (how could they not?) and one of them asked “What you doin’ here?” for which I had no easy answer.

Chicago’s public school system wasn’t integrated because its neighborhoods weren’t. My bus rides taught me the differences between home ownership and anonymous absentee landlords. From the “L” I could see rotting back stairways and into kitchens without air conditioning on 100-degree days; kids playing in the street, staying cool in the spray from fire hydrants.

I also heard the language around me: the “N-word” a lot. But a third of my high school was Black or Puerto Rican and about a third of my dad’s customers at the gas station were Black: kids he’d gone to school with, who had protected one of their classmates with just one leg (Roy lost it when he was nine). Racism existed but not at home or the station.

In 1963 I packed for college at Norman, Oklahoma, my first time away from home. Harold Andrews, an electrical engineering student from Oklahoma City, was in my freshman dorm and we became friends. Harold was Black. One day he asked if I’d like to take a walk downtown, far from campus, to the Cleveland county courthouse. In the lobby, Harold pointed to a wall with two drinking fountains. Above each was a discolored patch of wall with an older coat of paint showing through. He explained that only the year before there had been signs identifying which of the fountains was for people of color.

Two Black students lived just down the hall. I knew one of them as Calvin Looper and learned that Calvin’s mother Clara was a leader in the NAACP. I met Mrs Looper once or twice; she was very kind and asked about my family. But somehow I became aware that we should be alert to the possibility Calvin might be attacked; he was his mother’s son. One window looked like another in our dorm, so something might be thrown through mine as easily as Calvin’s. Nothing ever did but it and the Chicago convention of 1968 showed me that Ozzie and Harriet had been a pleasant fiction.

During my undergraduate years in Norman, President Kennedy was assassinated, as were his brother Bobbie and Dr King. I attended a rally about Vietnam, on the North Oval in front of the Administration Building, and was shocked by its presentation on local news: as far as I was concerned, the broadcast was a distortion, an outright lie designed to put dissidents “in their place.”

The two Chicagos I had seen were becoming two Americas: Whites and people of any other color [Oklahoma had its issues with Hispanics and Native Americans and apparently still does]. Eighteen-year-olds were burning draft cards or heading to Canada; women burned their bras. I was Gay and knew from the age of six or seven, but dared not do anything about it.

Guns. Enough said. Don’t want one; never touched one until mandatory Army ROTC forced me to march with a rifle every Tuesday afternoon. But the guns of my youth were shotguns that held two shells; not AR-15s that deliver hundreds of rounds in a few minutes. I don’t get it and likely never will. Ninety percent of NRA members support gun control, yet they remain members. Hell. Ninety percent of us think Congress is out of touch and doing a shitty job, yet we’ll send the same career politicians back again and again.

Sociologists tell us why we vote against our own better interests, but we don’t read those studies — probably because we don’t read. Anything. Libraries, schools and colleges are under attack. The legislature in Bismarck would like NDSU to be a trade school.

Some years ago in a second-year studio, Philippe D’Anjou posed a problem: design a place to contemplate the skull of Lucy, the purported Missing Link. I’d been asked to review them but found the solutions uninspired, prosaic at best. During a break, I did an informal survey: how many of them, I asked, supported the Theory of Evolution? Fewer than half the hands went up. “There’s your problem, Philippe,” but he was Canadian and simply didn’t get it.

These words aren’t nearly so eloquent and carefully considered as yours. I have more questions than answers. In November, I’ll enter the voting booth uninspired but certain that one of those candidates embodies most, if not all, of what is wrong with America. We’ve become atomized as a people. FaceBook and other social media encourage it. My bubble here allows me to believe that everything can be OK. But venture outside that protective bubble and pull back a bloody stump. I commented once on the boy in Texas who built a clock that was mistaken for a bomb. Fifteen hundred people — I’m not exaggerating — suggested I should 1) go back where I came from; 2) pull my head out of my ass; or 3) die. There were a few more colorful and creative suggestions, which told me I shouldn’t venture outside the comfort zone.

What are we to do? Inform ourselves of the issues and options. Read. Think. Grow. Vent. Stand for what does the most good for the greatest number, while not losing track of those who are invisible and slip through the cracks. Exercise our franchise, even when the choices are slim to none. Do not succumb to despair. Positive change will come. Incrementally. In the meantime, for you and others in my small and contracting circle, we can love and support one another when overcome by events like those over the last several days.

You have been the greatest friend to me, for which I will be forever grateful. I value everything that you have expressed here and to me personally; I value your counsel. I want to help when, where and however I can.

The election is past; the votes counted. And the prospect before us is challenging. Now more than ever I need to remember these words.

 

 

Saint Joseph the Carpenter (Part 2)

“A few figs from thistles…”

Howard A. Tabor

St Crispin’s Cabinet

Some buildings are great from the beginning. Others grow into their greatness. Agincourt’s Episcopal church, St Joseph-the-Carpenter, belongs in the latter category.

Saint Joseph-the-Carpenter

St Joe’s was certainly an exemplar of the Gothic Revival in 1878. But the next forty years only refined its original vision. Chancel and narthex sprouted at the east and west. Plain stained glass gradually disappeared, one window at a time, as donors stepped forward to memorialize an anniversary, a parent, a child, a spouse. The original baptismal font—a green enamel wash basin—survived twenty years until an Arts & Crafts replacement came from The Roycroft Shops in East Aurora, New York. And our own Tony Kraus designed and wrought the iron rood screen that separates nave from choir. It’s the little things that count.

The biggest of our “little things” materialized in 1915 when St Crispin’s Chapel blossomed at the south side of the chancel.

Nineteen fifteen was the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, the definitive contest between the English and French in the Hundred Years War, an anniversary neither celebrated nor even noticed elsewhere in America, I suspect. In 1915 the French and British were too busy fighting Germans. How this matters to us is fairly obtuse, since the Battle of Agincourt occurred on October 25th, St Crispin’s Day in the Anglican Church kalendar of festivals and feasts. It was, in fact, my own family who chose to commemorate that 500th anniversary by commissioning a chapel in the saint’s name.

Nominees for the chapel’s designer include Anson Tennant (my great-uncle) and Manuel Galvez, the furniture-maker who came from Albuquerque, New Mexico to build it. James and Martha Tennant took anson and his three sisters to New Mexico and Arizona in the winter of 1912, the year both territories entered the Union. In Albuquerque the family were smitten with the craftsmanship of a young woodworker named Manuel Jesus Galvez y Paz. And the rest, as they say, is history.

James and Martha began their relationship with Manuel Galvez modestly enough, purchasing a pair of chairs for their home. Manny was only a year or two older than Anson and the two young men struck a friendship, since Anson had become a devotee of William Morris, Elbert Hubbard and the Arts & Crafts Movement then sweeping America. Anson stayed in New Mexico an extra week to learn the rudiments of woodworking at Manny’s shop.

More of Galvez’ furniture found its way to Iowa: a library table, a wardrobe and a handsome buffet that eventually became part of the Fennimore County History Center collections. Recently, one of Galvez’ reclining chairs showed up on “Antiques Road Show” where I learned that all of his pieces are branded with “M.J.Galvez y Paz” and the date of manufacture.

Fast forward to the spring of 1915, while the Agincourt Public Library was under construction. Uncle Anson had sketched the Crispin Chapel addition to St Joe’s but left it incomplete when he sailed for Europe on the RMS Lusitania in May. Suddenly the chapel project gained a double meaning: marking the anniversary of an obscure medieval battle and the more immediate and probable loss of a son.

At James and Martha’s invitation, Manny Galvez came from New Mexico to build the chapel, the biggest “cabinet” of his career. He stayed in Anson’s old rooms above the stable and worked on the chapel for six months. I think it was Manny’s presence in the household that helped the family through its first awful Christmas. If you’re interested, there’s a standing $100 reward for the person who finds Manny’s brand; it’s in there somewhere, a signature authenticating his work.

The chapel idea expanded to accommodate a mausoleum in its basement; no doubt the Tennants believed their son’s body would be recovered and interred there. But it was his father James who became the crypt’s first occupant in 1919. As a grandson of Anson’s older sister Lucy, I’m also eligible to spend eternity there, but frankly, that shelf would be put to better use preserving some of Aunt Phyllis’ green tomato chutney.

Not all who see are blessed with vision.

IMG_5653 copie

Ambivalence

All that commotion about computer meltdown on New Year’s Eve, 1999, proved to be unfounded: computers transitioned from 19-something to 20-something without much problem. It seemed particularly odd to some of us, because 2000 wasn’t even the first year of the new millennium; that was 2001. So Hal Holt, Director of the Fennimore County History Center, decided to use that ambivalent year, 2000, for reflection on community history.

Among Hal’s collected essays, my favorite may be ninety-year-old Henry Schütz’s recollection of building Christ the King church. Henry served on the building committee—with Brian McAfee, Walter Breen and a couple others—as Father Farber and architect Francis Barry Byrne designed the new church during 1949-1950. Henry was the sole survivor of the group.

Building a Church

by Heinrich Schütz

On the fiftieth anniversary of its dedication to the Glory of God and service to our community—which all too soon will entail a funeral for this writer—I will set down some recollection about the design and construction of Christ the King Roman Catholic church. Though my role in that process was small, telling its story seems to have befallen me as a survivor from that time.

Two churches preceded the present Christ the King, the first St Ahab’s of 1860 and a replacement twenty years later. Parish growth and the need for a third larger building began with the arrival of Rev Emil Farber in 1939.

Father Farber had come to us from a village in the Alsace-Lorraine, French territory annexed to Germany in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War. The ambivalence of its citizenry can be seen in his name — Emil or Emile — a wise choice in a land of divided loyalties. Farber’s maternal grandmother, Estelle Milhaud,* was of Jewish ancestry (distant cousin of a French composer), so the family emigrated in the 1920s with the rise of National Socialism.

The original parish was dedicated to Saint Ahab (the only one in America, I think) but that building had suffered during the Depression. So Father became both priest and plumber, and spent as much time patching roofs as he did serving Communion. A few remember his fall from the roof, but most were unaware of the damage to his health: in the six months that followed, he lost nearly all his sight. Old and injured priests are put to pasture, a terrible fate for God’s helpers, so we covered for him in subtle ways — especially during the Bishop’s annual visit. Mrs Breen and my dad especially. They pulled it off for the rest of his career with us.

Emil was progressive for his generation. As you can see from the church built with Mr Byrne, the architect, they anticipated the reforms of Vatican II.

Architect and client met in a curious way, as though it was meant to be. On a pilgrimage to Ireland in the 1920s, Father saw the Church of Christ the King in Cork. But it was more than twelve years later that the accidental rerouting of a train brought them together. Byrne must have known Father was blind but he never let on. Their work together required many models of cardboard and clay and the result was a mutual achievement.

Mr Holt’s construction company from Des Moines were the builders, but many of us locals were hired, including my brothers. Brian McAfee did much of the plastering. Karl Wasserman made the Stations of the Cross, the only ones I’ve ever seen in braille. And the windows came from Frie & Harmon in St Louis, some of the best modern glass in the state.

Since dedication in 1951 very few changes have been required. In 2000 the sacristy is being converted to a chapel dedicated to Saint Ahab, but the school they intended was never built. Otherwise our church looks much as it did fifty years ago, though Father Farber could not see his work, only feel it. They built both beautifully and well.

Our family are proud to have played a role.

[Schütz was writing this in 2000. The building has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places.]

Not all who have sight are also blessed with vision.

* Estelle was a second cousin of French composer Darius Milhaud, who spent some of the war years in the U.S. It’s possible that Fr Farber may have met his distant relative and exchanged family history.