Twenty-six members of the Wessington community met at the Sunshine Senior Center Thursday, August 8 for an informational meeting conducted by Lana Dannenbring-Eichstadt and Rita Matthews.
Eichstadt opened by explaining that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the fact that Concordia Lutheran Church is officially closed and that the people who make up the church–approximately 13 active members–wanted to offer the building, free of charge, to the senior center. “We held our last service last Sunday (August 4),” said Eichstadt. “We can’t put a lot of stock in a building, but it’s been a part of the community all these years–the place where we have worshipped, held funerals and weddings, and raised our children, and we don’t want to see it become a barn or a storage facility or have it fall into ruins.”
According to Eichstadt, the sanctuary portion of the church was moved to its present site and set on a new basement in about 1951. The fellowship hall was built forty years later. The church was remodeled after a fire ten years ago and is in good condition, though the basement has had some water damage. A dehumidifier has been running and the area would still be useable.
Eichstadt sited many advantages to the senior center using the building. Appliances are new and would stay. There is a nice custom storage facility for tables, some of which will also stay with the building. The building comes with a window air conditioner, and a fairly new furnace from Resel that costs about $200 per month to run on the weekends through the winter. Eichstadt said the insurance ran about $1,000 per year, though the steeple cannot be insured. The electric bill usually runs about $20-30 per month.
Double doors would make it easy to move large items, such as a freezer, into the building. One challenge, would be the three steps leading up to the sanctuary. However, in Eichstadt’s opinion, a ramp could be built to make it easily accessible for everyone.
Rita Matthews, as an active member of the senior center, expressed her desire to see the people take advantage of this generous offer. “The building we are in now is very old and deteriorating,” said Matthews. “ I feel Shirley has done well to make do with what she has. Upkeep is expensive. It would be good for the community, but it would be a great change.”
Shirley Runge said they were already paying $300-400 per month to heat the center now. Runge also voiced her concern over the dwindling membership of the senior center. “The senior center numbers are down to nothing, but we need to keep it going if we are going to keep our nutrition site,” said Runge.
Matthews told the crowd that, after many years of service to the senior center, she is wanting to step down from leadership. “There needs to be some new people to take over,” said Matthews. “This would be a good time for the senior center to reorganize.”
Many agreed that the idea of moving the center to the Lutheran Church building would open up options they don’t have at their present location. Playing cards, gathering for coffee, and senior dances were activities that were mentioned.
Donna Runge said she thought it would be a good idea to reorganize as a community center with a new board of directors . Many in the group agreed and it was suggested that the name of the senior center be changed to broaden its scope so as to include people of all ages. Names suggested were “Friendship Center” and “Sunshine Activity Center.”
All agreed that such a change would require the community’s complete support. In the end, Major made a motion, which was seconded by Donna Runge, that the Sunshine Senior Center become the Sunshine Activity Center and move to the building offered by Concordia Lutheran Church. The motion carried unanimously.
Legal details of the change are yet to be determined. Eichstadt plans to talk with an attorney, an accountant and the church board and Matthews volunteered to talk to the proper authorities in Pierre. After gathering the information needed, another community meeting will be scheduled to discuss how the community wishes to proceed. It is thought that the move could be made yet this fall, after a ramp is built, and before the cold weather sets in.
After Thursday’s meeting, many of the attendees joined Eichstadt for a tour of the Lutheran Church, gaining an opportunity to see first hand and to dream of the possibilities that await the Sunshine Senior Center, the Nutrition Site, and the entire Wessington community.
Vicki L. Prentice|Staff
Members of Concordia Lutheran Church, like Carolyn Johnsen (left), are sad to think that there will no longer be church services held in their beloved building, while others like Norma DeHaven (middle) and Donna Runge (right), though members of other churches in Wessington, share in Johnsen’s grief.