The Sunday School
The Sunday School is the oldest and principal activity of the Mission. The Mission is not a church, but the Golden Thread of the Gospel runs through all of the Mission's work. Volunteers were needed to guide the young Mission, and leaders arose to meet the challenge. Mr. R.S. Martin was the first superintendent of the new organization, assisted by Miss Louise Woost, who later served as superintendent until her marriage, when she moved to another city. At Miss Woost's departure, Miss Mina Shuttlesworth was sought to fill the position. She had been active in Mission work from the beginning, but refused to serve as superintendent, saying a man should have the position. Herbert S. Mathews was called in and took over the job early in 1901. Mr. Mathews faithfully carried the responsibilities of Sunday School Superintendent in tandem with his wife, Carrie. It took failing health in June 1950 to cause them both to reluctantly resign their respective positions after fifty years of service.
A 1950 Echo reports that no one had yet been chosen to succeed the Mathews, however, "...The teachers have chosen Mr. Claude Smith Superintendent of the Sunday School temporarily." Claude had been a regular teacher at the Mission since 1940 and went on to serve as superintendent for 52 of his 86 years.
Mr. Smith was called to his reward
on October 1, 1992, but not before he painstakingly searched for the one
right person for his post. Claude had little luck finding a successor
for several years until November, 1989. Mr. Richard Smith, Claude's son,
assumed the position of Superintendent while Mr. Jim West was asked to
join the work in a teaching capacity with responsibilities as Assistant
Sunday School Superintendent. Mr. West, who is a seminary graduate with
a Masters of Divinity degree, found the work at the Mission as
fulfilling as his predecessors and continues as Assistant
Each year we observe Founders' Day, treasuring the memory of those who made the present institution possible. We consider our founders to be those who by their gifts and faithful service have made possible the institution we have today.
Mr. Herget for years was a generous
contributor to the Mission and took a keen interest in its welfare up to
the time of his death in March, 1914. Mr. Mathews once said of him,
"Numerous are the times I remember Mr. Herget stopping me on the
street and thoughtfully inquiring about the progress of the
Mission." George Herget's sincere interest in the welfare of the
work is evidenced by the generous provision made in his will for the
Mission. In his time, Mr. Herget had become successively a merchant,
manufacturer, and banker. One writer said of him, "His interests
were large and varied, and to him and his associates much of the
individual progress of Pekin and its growth as a city may be
attributed." The Union Mission Society is deeply appreciative of
the generosity of Mr. Herget and the spirit that directed his executors
in the distribution of his bequest. Through the generous provisions of
his will, the Mission was able to build the gymnasium and auditorium in
1922 and provide for necessary income to run the Mission for decades to
Judge Maus was the first donor of
property to the Mission in 1895. When the Mission was almost forced to
discontinue due to the lack of a meeting place, Mr. Maus and his wife
came to the rescue and provided the site of the original Mission at 203
Court Street, thereby opening the way for all the good things that have
Though characterized by people of
his day as "...Jurist, historian and man of large affairs",
Judge Curren was never too busy to give time and attention to the Union
Mission. His personal service as teacher was said to be an inspiration
and encouragement to all the Mission folk. That same "Mission
folk" also said at his passing, "His review (of the Sunday
lesson) from the platform will always be remembered." As a Sunday
School teacher, Judge Curren recognized the Mission's need for increased
space and deeded the Brosmer property, adding another 25 feet to the
growing Mission frontage space on lower Court Street.
Jointly with Mr. V.P. Turner, Mr.
Herget purchased an old laundry building adjoining the Mission on the
east and deeded it to the Mission. This additional 25 feet frontage
permitted use of the main building as a gym by moving the already
popular reading room into the former laundry building. In 1924 Herb
Mathews wrote of Henry Herget, "To Mr. Henry Herget full credit
should be given for the new permanent building, as he recognized the
practical applied Christian service being rendered. He realized the need
of an enlarged permanent home, and put the project through in such a
substantial manner that the generations to come will be benefited and
the under-privileged will call him blessed." Mr. Herget recognized
the Mission's great need for ongoing operational support and provided
for the Mission's future in his will by donating a highly productive
farm. Income from this farm and Mission trust funds continues to provide
much of the funding for Mission Sunday School and recreation programs.
The Mission is greatly indebted to Mr. Turner for his timely council, as he so enthusiastically entered into the details of Mission work, showing his broad, vision and good judgement. Mr. Turner was always young at heart and knew, what children liked and needed for a sound body and mind. In addition to his many contributions of time and effort, he donated a complete set of instruments for the boys' band, entire gymnasium apparatus, and a motion picture machine for the auditorium. He has been and will continue to be remembered for his kind and generous gifts to the Mission's work.
The Home Class was organized in October
of 1903. The members, mostly mothers, originally received Sunday School
quarterlies and studied their lessons at home. At a meeting once a month
on Tuesdays, the Home Class met to review the lessons under the
instruction of the three leaders. Quilting, sewing, and general service
in time of need was their program in the early years. For a service
project, the home class produced a service flag for the Mission
representing all Mission boys who served their country in the World
Wars. Since 1976 this club has sponsored the annual October Banquet, a
birthday celebration of the various clubs.
Though the Loyal League no longer is active at the Mission, they have delivered many years of splendid service to our work. The first meeting was held on Wednesday, November 5, 1919. The original enrollment numbered 30. This organization was the outgrowth of a teachers' training class which held its meetings in the Sun Room of the old Mission. The Loyal League no longer holds regular meetings, but members turn out for Mission events. When the club was active, meetings were held regularly on the first Wednesday of each month. These meetings consisted of devotional, business, and a social hour. One of the most enjoyable features of the work of this group was the annual Christmas party given for the primaries and beginners. These little guests were treated to caramel corn, stick candy, and apples, and each child was presented with a gift. The last recorded Loyal League president was Marie Kohlbacher.
The Master called His beloved ones
"friends", so when a group of girls sponsored by Mrs. Mathews
and the Misses Mary Schwartz, Cora Albertsen, Agnes Smith and Louise
Weiss, organized a club on October 2, 1921, they called it "Tillicums",
a Native American name meaning good friends. The Tillicums have a fine
history of being active in the social life of the Mission. The Tillicums
were the first Mission group to sponsor a bazaar in 1923. In 1925 they
honored their mothers with a Mother-Daughter banquet, which has become a
Mission tradition. This club has always been pleased to supply the
little things needed to make the wheels of the Sunday School turn more
smoothly, such as an attendance and offering register for the main
Sunday School and birthday banks for the Beginners and Primary
Departments. To provide such gifts, the club has organized dinners,
candy and bake sales, and sold magazine subscriptions, wax paper, and
even gelatin. The Tillicums slogan is "Friendliness and
This Mission Girls' Club was organized
September 20, 1923, with 25 charter members, composed in four classes
sponsored by Misses Margaret Lautz, Linda Kohlbacher and Anna Blenkiron,
and Mrs. Carrie M. Matthews. It was the custom of the Mission to
organize the older girls' classes into a club so they could continue
their membership with the Mission when their home duties and other
reasons hindered them from attending the regular Sunday School morning
sessions. The Girls' Club met monthly to report plans and different
methods of scattering sunshine and good deeds. They stood watchful for
opportunities to be of service. Though this group no longer meets
regularly due to the health of its few remaining members, there is a ray
of sunshine on the horizon -- a newly formed girls' club, Sunshine II.
Twelve girls met on January
21, 1953, to form a new club "to promote the social and cultural
welfare of the Pekin Union Mission Society and to help each other to
grow in faith and understanding." Their formative leaders were Lola
Wubben, Annette Rickard, and Katherine Doren. It was not until March of
that same year that the club would choose the name "Carrie M."
to honor the late Mrs. Carrie May Mathews, who rendered 50 years service
to the Mission. The responsibilities they chose include securing and
coloring Easter eggs and stuffing the sacks for the annual Christmas
treats. In December 1968, the club donated a much appreciated lavaliere
microphone and stand for the stage. The club has also donated a bulletin
board in memory of Lola Wubben, artificial palm trees for the stage, and
privacy drapes for the balcony guard rail.
The I.H.H. Club emerged from the earlier
Union Mission Girls' Club organized by Mrs. Geneva Craggs in March 1953.
On March 11, 1958, Mrs. Pat Bright and eight charter members reorganized
the club and chose a secret name, revealed only to club members. The
club assumed the responsibilities of decorating and dismantling the
various Christmas trees around the Mission. In 1969 the Club made 30
beautiful religious symbol ornaments for the tree in the theater. I.H.H.
members' successful fund-raising efforts have resulted in many gifts to
the Sunday School, including our stage Nativity set, R.S.V. pulpit
Bible, indoor-outdoor thermometer for Polar Bear readings, National
Geographic Bible Land for our library, a wall plaque for the Orchestra,
and many other thoughtful gifts and services to the Mission. Members
currently meet the second Tuesday of each month for devotions, business
In 1994 Shirley Moore sponsored Misses
Rachael Roby, Alissa Roby, Heather Logue, Tiffany Hancock, and Samantha
Collins in starting a new girls' club honoring the previous Sunshine
Club, The club's purpose is to benefit the Mission, and members have
directed their efforts on two service projects. They redecorated our
Mission Game Room and plan another service project which reaches outside
the Mission. Current members hope to "adopt a grandma" from a
local nursing home who would appreciate visits, notes and cards,
remembering her on holidays, and generally bringing good cheer. Sunshine
II holds regular meetings the last Wednesday of each month at the
Mission. Like those of their predecessors, these meetings consist of
devotional, prayer time, a business meeting, and a social hour. The
girls would like to issue a general invitation to any young woman
interested in joining their circle of friendship, "Please feel free
to visit any time!"
The Union Mission Orchestra was organized January 24, 1915, by Carrie Mathews and George Seal, Sr., as a volunteer orchestra to provide music for the weekly Sunday School. Sunday School traditionally begins each week with two lively marches from the orchestra. The orchestra then provides music for group singing, a weekly orchestra special number is added, and a final march sees all the Sunday scholars off to their classes following the opening assembly.
The six charter members present on that
first Sunday morning in 1914 were John Flath (horn), Fred Kickler
(violin), Alfred Dieckman (cornet), Henry Beebe (violin), George Saal
(clarinet), and Carrie Mathews (piano). 1998 Orchestra members include
Orchestra Director Phil Peterson (flute, fife), Phil Frederich (drums),
Johanna Peterson (trombone), Jim Markum (trumpet), Sally Markum (piano),
and Dick Schermer (clarinet, trumpet). The orchestra is considered
"missing in action" if it ever has fewer than three members
present on any given Sunday. Incredibly, the Mission Orchestra has had
only six recorded misses since it was organized 80 years ago. The level
of commitment has certainly been exemplary over these many years.
Warren, Karl Zerweck, Roland Pobel, George Saal, Carrie Mathews, Wm. G.
Janssen, Henry Beebe
Peterson, our current Orchestra Director, has served over 50 years in
this volunteer Orchestra, beginning in 1941. His only pause in duty
occurred while he was serving his country during World War II. Mr.
Peterson took leadership of the orchestra in April 1982, at the death of
then director, Bill Janssen. Mr. Janssen had taken over the reins of
leadership from Carrie Mathews upon her death in 1952. During his tenure
at the baton, Mr. Janssen racked up an incredible 25 years of perfect
attendance in the Mission Sunday School. This jewel of the Mission, its
Orchestra, is a rare and precious gem indeed.
Free Reading Room to Free Recreation Program
For many years the
Mission maintained a free reading room for boys. This addition to the
work of the Mission was added to fill the void created when the last
Pekin YMCA folded around 1906. The YMCA even donated some of their
furnishings to the Mission for the start up of this project. The reading
room, referred to as the "Off-the-Street Club" because it kept
boys off the streets, proved to be a very popular extension to the work
of the Mission.
Men who are now well past their boyhood recount nostalgically how they would sit at different positions along a glass covered library table to view, two pages per station, the newest Superman comic. Herb Mathews doubled as Sunday School Superintendent and "commander" of the reading room, keeping time to announce the shift to the next position at the table as well as maintaining discipline among the boys. Being open daily, the reading room afforded the Mission Sunday School department contact with many who did not attend the Sunday School.
In 1912 the reading room was expanded into the newly donated former laundry, just east of the existing two store fronts already housing Mission activities. Moving the reading room provided an opportunity. The main floor of the old building was turned into a make-shift gym. Basketball was played on rickety wooden floors in a room with a 10-foot high ceiling. Ah, those were the days!
The new gym, added in 1922, developed into an important Mission department. Gym classes were organized and were well attended. A full-time Activity Director was hired to devote full attention to expanding the use of the gym facility.
A Pekin Daily Times article read, "The 'Gym' opens tonight under the supervision of an experienced physical instructor, who will be present every night from 4:30 to 9:30." Our first director was Mr. Neil McNeil of Peoria, who was employed four nights each week, holding four classes daily. The Times article added that dues were 10 cents per month (to pay the instructors fee), a locker was furnished, and a hot shower was free; however, "A charge of five cents for large bath towels will be made to those who do not furnish their own towel."
Wednesdays were set aside for "the exclusive use of girls and women". A "Business Men's class" was organized with the motivating slogan, "Health is Wealth." Participants would play volleyball and other games beginning about 4:30 in the afternoon. In a September issue of a 1933 Echo, the pitch for the classes read, "...the man too busy for this is neglecting a good and sure investment which is the cheapest insurance." The gym was so popular that the Mission had to keep a waiting list for use of the facility.
The early instructors were followed by a long series of recreational supervisors until 1964, when Mr. Glen Cerveny became our first full-time recreational director. Mr. Cerveny also assumed the responsibility of the men's Sunday School class. Mr. John Preston took over the director's position from 1967 until 1974, when Mr. Ronald C. Smith from Indiana State University became director and also assumed leadership of the men's Sunday School class. In 1980 our current director, Mr. Terry Brecher, came to the Mission. His long-standing leadership of the recreation program has been marked by widespread community approval and support.
What began as a Reading Room and emerged as a recreation program has come full circle. In 1992 Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Elliff donated a new reading room in memory of the late Claude Smith, who dedicated himself to the Mission. Once again the Mission boasts of a place to read with a most interesting variety of books from which to choose. Mr. and Mrs. Elliff not only donated a generous number of new volumes, they also provided for a partition wall in the Mission to house the "Claude Smith Reading Room", with a table and four chairs upon which to peruse one's reading selections. So the Union Mission Reading Room re-emerges, thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Elliff, dear friends of the Union Mission.
Times have changed in many
ways, but human needs have not. The family is challenged for survival as
in no other period in our country's history. The Mission still stands
after more than 115 years of worthy service to thousands of families and
individuals in Pekin. We continue to welcome all interested individuals
to a non-denominational service every Sunday from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m.,
followed by Sunday School for children and adults. Our recreation
department is flourishing, with growing interest in new activities as
well as our girls and boys softball, baseball and basketball.
Our fervent prayer and
singular goal as an organization is to continue stead-fastly in our
strong history of service to each new generation born in our community.
As we do so, we once again ask for all the support you can give in both
finances and prayer. Gifts to the Mission are tax deductible, and your
patronage is most appreciated. As for prayer, ours is for guidance as we
endeavor to remain current with the times while securely anchored to the
solid bedrock of Christian service before the God of the Bible. The
Pekin Union Mission was begun in 1895 in His honor and in His name it