I never got the chance to see the church in the little town of Holyoke, Minnesota, where my dad, Al Spencer and his siblings spent much of their growing up years…at least not before it fell into terrible disrepair. My dad’s parents rented a farm in the area, and the little Lutheran Church in town was their church. The kids helped on the farm and went to school in the area, but the church held a special significance to the family. Of course, being a very religious family, church was the center of their lives. Everything else came after time with the Lord. For me and my sisters, that has been something that our parents, Allen and Collene Spencer carried forward into their marriage, and we will be forever grateful for that solid Christian upbringing. That in many ways got started in that little church in Holyoke, Wisconsin.
There was something else that endeared the little church to our family, and really the reason that my family visited it on a trip back to Wisconsin. My Uncle Fritz Fredrick, who was then married to my dad’s sister, Laura, was exceptional at furniture building, and he put that talent into building the baptismal font for the church. It was a really special gift to them. In fact the story of the baptismal font and its special connection to our family is the reason my dad’s brother, Bill Spencer brought the family to the little church in the first place. Of course, my dad knew about the baptismal font, but the rest of the family who were on that trip wanted to see it firsthand. I think the most amazing part of the history of it…to us anyway, was that someone in our family had a part in it.
When the little church closed…sadly, my Uncle Bill asked for the baptismal font. He wanted it to be passed to one of Fritz’s sons. In the end, Fritz’s son Dennis ended up with the baptismal font. I’m sure it was a treasure for him. While the font was a beautiful piece of church furniture, the real treasure is that it was made by his dad’s hands. Many churches have one of a mass produced baptismal font, and they are beautiful, but this one was made with love by the hands of a family member, and that makes this one so much more special. I wish I could have seen that baptismal font, in that little church in Holyoke…in the intended setting for it. It think I would have been in awe of both the baptismal font and the church. It made me very sad to see the little church in its final state…when I was finally able to get back to Holyoke. It just seems so wrong to have a church in such dilapidation…a condition that should never be the fate of a church.
Last night, while my sister, Cheryl Masterson and I were going through several boxes of our parents paperwork to prepare it for shredding, we came across a number of letters from different family members. I was drawn to some from my dad’s brother, William Spencer. One letter was written on March 5, 1990, and told a lot about the small town of Holyoke, Minnesota, where the family lived for a number of years. Uncle Bill talked of how the town was just a skeleton now, and so unlike its former self. I could read the sadness in his thoughts. Holyoke was a place that, in his childhood, had seemed larger than life. He knew every inch of it. He and my dad, their sister, Ruth, and their friends had dodged the trains, played ball, gone to school, fished the stream, and…well, lived life there. Uncle Bill was sad, because now, all that was changing.
Uncle Bill wrote of the passing of this friend, and that friend, as well as all the citizens, teachers, parents, and business owners who had lived in the little town of Holyoke. While the passing of the people he knew and loved was hard enough, the loss of the different buildings in the town was equally devastating to my dear Uncle Bill. I think the building that was the hardest for him to see go was the little church, which held the baptismal font that had been built in 1935 by Fritz Fredrick, who is the father of my cousins Gene and Dennis Fredrick. Fritz also did most of the cabinet work, too. It was very hard for Uncle Bill to think of that baptismal font being left to rot, so he bought it and gave it to one of Fritz’s sons. Uncle Bill writes about how sad it makes him to see the buildings delapitated and, in his words, forlorn. Nevertheless, he continues to be drawn to Holyoke because it feels like going home to him. He loves the people there, and loves to spend time visiting with them. Holyoke is and always will be a part of him…like it’s in his DNA.
Uncle Bill’s letter continues to draw me back to it in much the same way that Holyoke draws Uncle Bill back to it, because even if the feelings are raw and painful to a degree, it is harder not to make the trip than it is the deal with the feelings when you go back there. My mom, Collene Spencer, my sister, Cheryl Masterson, my cousin Bill Spencer (Uncle Bill’s son), and I visited Holyoke this past August while we were back in Superior, Wisconsin, and I can completely understand how Uncle Bill feels about that place. I don’t recall having been there before, but like my Uncle Bill, Holyoke, Minnesota will continue to live in my heart. I guess that some places simply have that affect on you.