Fairmount Church campaign close to home

4:30:00 PM CDT - Thursday, February 01, 2007

By Shannon Littlejohn

Sitting prettily on the southwest corner of Fairmount and 16th Street is one of the remaining icons of Wichita State's earliest days — the former Fairmount Congregational Church.

Now known as Fairmount United Church of Christ, the building won a place in the Kansas State Register of Historic Places in November.

Fairmount Church
Photos by David Dinell
Bottom left, the Rev. Michael Poage stands beneath one of two stained glass windows in the Fairmount United Church of Christ, formerly the Fairmount Congregational Church, dedicated to two early WSU leaders. The window, depicting the Good Shepherd, recognizes Fairmount College’s first president Nathan Morrison, whose name appears below the window with the words, “A Wise Master Builder.” Top right, the church, located south of campus, will celebrate its centennial in 2010. It was recently placed on the state’s historic register, in large part because of the two stained glass windows, according to George Platt, a member of the city’s historic preservation committee and a retired WSU faculty member.
Two elements of the building, built in 1910, put it over the top for earning the designation, said George Platt, associate professor emeritus of public administration. Those elements are the two large stained glass windows dedicated to Nathan Morrison, the first president of Fairmount College, and William Henry Isely, the first dean.
The stained glass window in Morrison's honor depicts the Good Shepherd. Isely's illustrates the Parable of the Sower.

Fairmount College was founded in 1895 as a Christian college. But the association with the Congregational Church goes back to 1886 when the Plymouth Congregational pastor, the Rev. Joseph Homer Parker, founded the Fairmount Ladies College and began dreaming of a church closer to "the hill" adorned only by Fairmount Hall.
Fairmount Congregational Church was founded in 1892 in a building at the bottom of the hill; the current building was built near the top of the hill in 1910.

Last fall, in anticipation of its centennial year in 2010, the church launched a fund-raising campaign for building renovations, including repairing woodwork and plaster surrounding the stained glass windows.

As Marjorie Stewart, a member the church's historic committee, pointed out in a brief article in the fall 2006 Shocker magazine: "(Fairmount) was the first church in the northeast part of Wichita, back when this area was the sticks. All these people who were struggling to found the university and keep it going were members of our congregation."

Inside of Fairmount Church
Since the article and a church campaign letter that went out on Nov. 1, donations have steadily arrived in large and small amounts.

"We are getting in sight of our goal," said Stewart, who noted the pass-it-on power of such a grassroots campaign. Ken Stewart, her husband, recently finished the annual report, which shows that of the $30,500 goal, church trustees gave $1,000 while $23,925 has been contributed to date.

Being this close to goal has made the Stewarts and Florence Wilner Scott, another member of the Fairmount historic committee whose father is memorialized by WSU's Wilner Auditorium, confident that they'll be able to apply for their matching grant from the state this year. The more people have heard of the campaign, the more historical connections have been made, said Stewart. A lot of people have worked in the church's behalf to spread awareness, she said, including Platt, who serves on the city's historic preservation committee.

"The Fairmount Church is an integral part of the history and origin of Wichita State University," said Platt.

"Prominent members of the church were prominent members of the faculty."

Inside Fairmount Church
The church often served meals for the students, said Stewart. And Platt said that after a fire in Fairmount Hall, the college music program operated out of the church for a time. The Fairmount Ladies Library Club, formed after someone broke into Fairmount Hall and stole all the books, met there.

Even though the college lost its direct tie to the Congregationalists when it became the Municipal University of Wichita in 1926, the deep connections have continued.

The Rev. Michael Poage, current pastor, said that's evident in the outpouring of financial support for the renovations and repairs.

"The response has been really great," he said. "We've heard from faculty, congregations, people from all around the country because of past connections or even family connections."

The church will continue to welcome and encourage donations, he said, adding that "We'd be glad to open the door and let people wander around and ask questions."

Nathan Jackson Morrison sign

To donate to the Fairmount Church campaign, send check or money order to: Fairmount United Church of Christ, Historic Preservation Campaign, 1650 Fairmount, Wichita, KS 67208.

For more information about Wichita State University's history from Fairmount College to a municipal university and, finally, a state university under the governance of the Kansas Board of Regents, go to www.wichita.edu/thisis/aboutus.


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