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Our History

In the Year of Our Lord, 1927

Looking into the archives, one finds that it all began in 1892 with a united effort on the part of several persons of different denominations who met to consider the feasibility of establishing a Sunday School for children who lived near the river "...as no one church was in itself strong enough to furnish means and workers, the work was finally taken in charge by the Pekin Township Sunday School Association and made a UNION EFFORT." As a suitable site could not be found, it became necessary to build. When the late Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Don Maus donated a vacant lot at 203 Court Street, a legal organization was required with trustees to whom a deed could be made. Hence, the Pekin Union Mission Society was incorporated in 1895. A committee comprised of Herbert Mathews, Rev. Shanklin and Mrs. Helmboldt selected the name and wrote the constitution which was duly adopted.
 

Pekin Union Mission

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.


Herbert & Carrie Mathews
Herbert & Carrie Mathews
 

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.

Claude Smith  Claude Smith 
Claude Smith

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 Superintendent.

Th
e Mission grew quickly during its early years and soon required more room. Mr. V.P. Turner extended Mission property holdings jointly with Henry G. Herget by donating an additional 25 feet of frontage on the east. Judge Wm. R. Curran donated another 25 feet, making a total of 75 feet frontage. In 1921, the George Herget estate and Henry G. Herget erected the fine auditorium and gymnasium which we now enjoy and use daily. The new front of the building was made possible by various special gifts over a 30 year period prior to 1952. This building is larger than most people realize. It took 400,000 bricks and 42 tons of steel to enclose the building. Time has proven the investment intensely practical, and it will prove more so as it continues to serve the community.

 

The Founders

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.

The Founders

 

George Herget

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 come.

Judge William Don Maus

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 since developed.

Judge William Curran

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.

Henry G. Herget

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.

Vincent P. Turner

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.

 Minnie A. Kuhl

Minnie A. Kuhl
1867 - 1943

The memory of Miss Kuhl will live long, particularly with the Sunday School participants. Through her twenty years of teaching, she observed the need for ongoing financial support for the Sunday School. Miss Kuhl willed her estate to the Mission, and the income continues to support Sunday School expenses.

Minnie A. Kuhl, Lillian Osterman, Maude Campbell, Irene Shipman, Katherine Kluever, Loraine Hendriks, Geneva Daniels, Opal Hayes, Perletta Sams
Minnie A. Kuhl and one of her Sunday school classes (Early 1920's)
Minnie, Lillian Osterman, Maude Campbell, Irene Shipman, Katherine Kluever,
Loraine Hendriks, Geneva Daniels, Opal Hayes, Perletta Sams

 

 

Clubs of the Pekin Union Mission

Home Class

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.
 

Loyal League

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 Tillicums

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 Service."
 

Sunshine Club

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.
 

Carrie M.

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.
 

I.H.H.

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 and pleasure.
 

Sunshine II

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!"
 

 

Orchestra

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.
 

George Warren, Karl Zerweck, Roland Pobel, George Saal, Carrie Mathews, Wm. G. Janssen, Henry Beebe

George Warren, Karl Zerweck, Roland Pobel, George Saal, Carrie Mathews, Wm. G. Janssen, Henry Beebe
 

Phil 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.

 


Pekin Union Mission

From 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.
 

The Reading Room
 

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.

 

Echo, the Union Mission Bulletin

The Echo was first published on September 29, 1918, as "an experiment." Superintendent Herbert Mathews was "Editor, Pro Tem," and began the monthly News Sheet with the support of the Board of Trustees and with the following explanation, "The friends who contribute are entitled to regular reports. To hold and create new interest and friends it is necessary that some method of regular communication be had so that the sidelights and small details may be shown. ...Experience has been that those who are in close touch and really know the Mission as it is, grow to be staunch supporters of the work."

The Board approved a trial period of three months for the Echo, hoping that by then some plan would be devised to finance its continuance. Mr. Mathews asked for suggestions. "Shall we solicit advertising, or shall we make a real bulletin and depend upon donations and charge it out as publicity in overhead expense? What say you? If you like this sheet and it is needed, speak up. If there are any flowers to be handed out, we prefer them now instead of at our funeral. Shall we print [another] issue?"

The Echo was successful and by January 3, 1919, the Mission had added a new department, with the purchase of a printing outfit consisting of two presses, one of them weighing 200 pounds, four racks of type, ink, and new rollers. The entire setup was purchased through Bankruptcy Court for $60 with the help of trustee William S. Prettyman. Several printers, including Mr. Gates from the Pekin Daily Times, and Henry Kettenring, printer, immediately volunteered to give the Mission boys lessons in running the press. The Echo article emphatically stated that The Echo Press would only do work for the Mission and would not compete with any trade. The logo for the News Sheet, printed above, was designed by Miss Norma Zerwekh, Sunday School secretary.

The Echo was printed on the old Mission presses for over 50 years but production was gradually reduced to an annual publication. As the Mission has completed it's first 103 years, the Board of Trustees has rejuvenated the Echo and Mission friends will soon have a quarterly newsletter to keep them informed of the many Sunday School and recreational activities.
 

Click  here for the Archives Page
 

The Pekin Union Mission Society Polar Bear Club

The Pekin Union Mission Society Polar Bear Club   

This Mission Sunday School Club was formed in 1936. Membership is limited to those who have a record of attendance of three sub-zero Sundays. Charter members included 93 individuals who braved not three but four days when the temperature during the Sunday School hour was below zero.


Anna R. Evans' Class - October 23, 1927

Anna R. Evans' Class, October 23, 1927

Front row: Helen Penning, Lucille Thurma, Edith Eiker, Mary Bussone, Ollie John, Hasel Williams
Back row: Vivian Sexton, Helen LeMasters, Velda Maus, Margaret Hill, Leona Campbell, Anna R. Evans



The Pekin Union Mission Society Today

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.
 

Pekin Union Mission - 9:15 Sunday Mornings with Teacher Jim West.  The Union Mission is located at 203 Court St. (downtown Pekin, IL)

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 ever remains.

 

 

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