History
      

ChurchThe First Days

The first regular Methodist pastor to bring the Word Of God to Tonawandans was the Rev. Glezen Fillmore who began riding his circuit of 1200 square miles in western New York in 1809. Within a decade Methodists had erected their first church in Buffalo, although most of the countryside continued to rely on circuit riders for many years.

With the establishment of the tiny hamlet of Kenmore in 1889 there came to be a need for more regular worship than could be provided by circuit riders.  After 2 years Methodists in this pioneer suburb met in the home of Myron and Dulcena Phelps at the corner of Delaware and Tremaine Avenues to organize Kenmore Methodist Episcopal Church. Their petition was soon approved by the Superintendent of Buffalo City Church Missions and Myron Phelps was appointed class leader. The first class and prayer meeting was held in the Phelps’ home on February 15, 1891. Superintendent Allen P. Ripley preached to 35 persons in the Phelps’ home on March 1st of that year. Church services have been held regularly ever since.  Kenmore Chapter Epworth League was organized on May 10th and the Kenmore Methodist-Episcopal Sunday School was founded on May 31st.

The Church Grows

As membership doubled fromthe 25 charter members space for worship became a priority. Members’ homes were no longer adequate. In June 1891 George Sanderson provided a good-sized room in a store on the south side of Kenmore Avenue but the church family soon outgrew that.  George Sanderson donated a larger room in the “White House” on the north side of Kenmore Avenue.

It was evident that a substantial church must soon be built in the young village. A committee to determine a plan for the new church was appointed an quickly adopted the design of the German Methodist-Episcopal Church on Buffalo’s East Avenue. The prominent Buffalo architect, Cyrus K. Porter, was employed to manage the project.

Six thousand dollars was subscribed by the membership within a few days and George Sanderson donated a choice lot on Delaware Avenue
at Sanborn (now LaSalle) Avenue.  Ground was broken on June 18, 1892, the cornerstone was laid on September 22nd and the finished basement was ready for worship at the beginning of 1893. The dedication of the $13, 500.00 building was held Sunday, June 4, 1893.

The new building was carpeted and furnished largely with the efforts of The Ladies of the Church Furnishing Society.  In 1897 the first organ was installed and a 2500 pound bell was donated by David R. Faling. The bell, which served the village as a fire alarm until 1916, now rings
from our present tower. On it is inscribed “A new covenant I give unto you, that ye love one another.”

Student pastors were used during the society’s first year, but a regular pastor was appointed at the annual conference held during the autumn of 1891. Our present pastor, the Rev. Dr. Peter LeValley, is the 23rd in a line of senior pastors that began with the appointment of Rev. Joseph S. Duxbury who served during the time the original church was erected.

During the pastorate of Rev. Phineas T. Lynn from 1893 to 1898 there was a period of growth, both a spiritual awakening of the Kenmore
congregation during revival services, and an increase in membership to well over 100.  A shed was built at the rear of the church to shelter the horses of members who came from some distance. Early members told of whinnies and vicious kicks against the stalls the resounded within the sanctuary that reminded pastors to conclude long-winded sermons.

Rev. Dr. Frederick S. Parkhurst. Ph.D. was our eighth pastor when the 225 member congregation celebrated it’s silver jubilee in 1916. He retired after a ministry of 35 years and in 1919 became the first local historian for the Village of Kenmore and Town of Tonawanda.

During the 1920’s the village population increased fivefold and our church family continued to expand.  Forward looking laity joined with Rev. W. Mortimer Heisler to seek a site for a new church. which could meet the needs of our rapidly growing congregation.  A site at the northern fringe of the village at Delaware Road and Madison Avenue (now Landers Road) was purchased in 1924 and the old Jacob Heimiller farmhouse was torn down.  Many people in the village thought the Methodists were “a bit daft” to build so far out of the village center.  Construction of the new church began in 1927 under the leadership of Rev. Charles H. Gall. The first sod was turned in late July and the cornerstone ceremony was held in September. The grey stone English Gothic building was dedicated on Sunday, June 17, 1928 by Bishop Adna Wright Leonard.  The new parsonage was next door at 28 Landers Road.

The Depression
Membership in 1928 had grown to 625 and enrollment in the church school now exceeded 500. Our church trustees found it very difficult during the Great Depression to raise money to pay the mortgage and carry on the expanded church programs, A coal scuttle was placed by the entrance to collect donations toward paying the heating bill. In spite of hard times, membership surpasses 1000 by 1933. The congregation celebrated it's 50th anniversary in 1941. 

1940 Through 1960

Our church family sent many young men and women to serve their country during World War II. Some never
returned.  With the return of peace in 1945 and the emphasis on family values during the 1940’s and 1950’s the
membership reached 2500 with church school enrollment of 1600.  Such rapid growth necessitated further
expansion of facilities.

During the 12 year pastorate of Dr. Oscar C. Plumb two identical worship services were held each Sunday morning and seating capacity was increased by installing additional seating in the parlor behind the sanctuary.   Three services were instituted for Easter Sunday mornings.  In 1949 Kathryn Grace was appointed our first Director of Christian Education.

Even with the division of church school classes into two sessions to coincide with worship services the  facilities were still overcrowded; expansion was imperative.  After a thorough study of how best to carry out an expansion a congregational meeting authorized the purchase of 2 adjacent apartment buildings on Chapel Road.  The were connected to each other and to the
church building and consecrated as Asbury Hall by Bishop W. Earl Ledden on November 18, 1951.

Our remodeled divided chancel, constructed in 1959, and an authorization for a new organ was accomplished under the pastorate of Dr. Donald R. Crocker who served from 1957 to 1959.  The new Schlicker organ was consecrated on March 19, 1961 during the pastorate of Dr. Franklin M. Zentz.  That same year our church family subscribed sufficient funding to establish a Minister Abroad program, which continued for over 30 years with Rev. John Moss in Niigata, Japan.  The West Grimsby parsonage was purchased in 1964.

 The 75th anniversary of the congregation was marked with a church wide banquet on Feb. 23, 1966 with Bishop W. Ralph Ward speaking of “Images for a New Congregation.” Kenmore United Methodist Church, as it became in 1968, counted over 2800 members during Dr. Zentz’s pastorate and had become the largest congregation in the Buffalo District.  Our programs and outreach over a wide area were true to that responsibility.

1970’s through 1990’s

The Rev. Vernon Bigler serves as leader of our church family during the 1970’s, a difficult era of national turmoil and declining church enrollment.  Contraction of our membership and financial base was challenging.  Outreach to both church family and world service continued during his pastorate.  A special service, a celebration to praise God for the Bicentennial of the United States, was held July 4, 1976.

Dr. Gene M. Ferguson led the congregation from 1978 to 1990.  KUMC organized an extensive celebration of two hundred years of Methodism in America during 1984 and it was Dr. Ferguson who laid the groundwork for the church’s Centennial Celebration carried out by Dr. Donald Weaver and the Centennial Committee in 1991.  A substantial bequest from the estate of Genevieve Houghton for the construction of an elevator in the church was matched by church members and the present elevator was dedicated in 1988.

Changing demographics during the 1990’s brought about the closings of many churches nationwide and in the Buffalo District.  Kenmore UMC, though smaller in membership, continued to be a leader in Western New York.  “Mission 2000”, a search for Kenmore United Methodist Church’s role into the next century was begun in 1992.  A second Sunday morning worship service was reinstituted in January 1995, with the addition of a contemporary service.  Development of a mission statement was led by Rev. Robert Pascoe in 1997.

When a need for a new associate pastor arose in 1998, our church hired Donna Kropidlowski, a Roman Catholic with excellent pastoral background, to serve KUMC as Director of Spiritual development.  The first church wide Ministry Fair was held in November, 1998 as part of Commitment Sunday.  A 3 year Capital Fund Drive to renovate and update church facilities was instituted in 1999.

2000’s through Present

 

Much thought and effort went into planning for a meaningful celebration of the beginning of our second century as a church Family in Kenmore.  Every member and group in the church was encouraged to participate in some way.  Whether it was helping to create the Centennial Quilt, craft Centennial Clocks, produce the new directory or seek pledges for the Heritage Fund, we were all given an opportunity to help our church family remember our successful

first century and prepare to ensure that we can meet the challenges of our second century.

Rev. Dr. Peter LeValley returned to Kenmore United Methodist Church in 2006 as senior pastor.  He had served here as a young associate pastor a quarter of a century previous.  Bonnie LeValley was appointed as Pastoral Associate in 2008.

A number of capital improvements have been made through the first decade of the 21st Century.  The Fellowship room underwent a substantial upgrade, The Pilgrim Room was cut back to 1/3 its original size to allow for construction of a modern women’s restroom, both kitchens were modernized, the heating system upgraded and zoned, windows replaced throughout the church and Asbury Hall, the sanctuary redecorated, new roofing, a new tool shed replaced the previous one and a ramp constructed for easier access to the parlor for people with ambulatory disabilities.   In addition, the three remaining houses the church owned on Landers Rd. were torn down to make way for a new parking lot. While this caused some controversy in the church, it is full most Sundays as well as during the week.







 

 

by John Percy

Town Of Tonawanda Historian