Church in St. Charles to be rebuilt in same spot after fire

Published 11:27 am Saturday, February 13, 2010

ST. CHARLES — The congregation of the United Church of Christ has faith in St. Charles.

It hopes that faith will be a boost for the town that was slammed when a fire destroyed North Star Foods, its largest employer in April, and was hit again last month when the company said it won’t rebuild.

The small congregation was slammed in June when it saw its little 105-year-old church burn. The congregation voted last month to rebuild on the same spot across from the elementary school.

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The new church will be about 2,000 square feet and will be handicap accessible, said Lori Todd, chairwoman of the church board. She announced which design was chosen on Sunday, Feb. 7, when about two dozen members met at the St. Charles Community Center, where they have been meeting since the fire.

The community center has some advantages, such as being handicap accessible so elderly members can now attend services, she said. The old church had wooden steps that made it hard, or impossible, for some to attend.

Yet the center isn’t home, said Bill Loppnow, who has been a church member for about 40 years.

“(The fire) was devastating, you bet,” he said. “It was like losing a member of the family. It was a beautiful building, it was kind of like an old congregational church It was a comfortable place to be every Sunday, it was something we were used to.”

The new one won’t be home, at least not right away, he said. It will be more modern.

“It’s something that we will have to grow into,” he said.

Because the new one will be handicap accessible, it might even attract new members, Loppnow said.

What was interesting when the old church was demolished was finding a time capsule in the cornerstone, Todd said. When the congregation opened it, it found the 1904 church was built because a cyclone tore through St. Charles, wiping out the church and many homes. The congregation back then, at a time when the town was hit hard by a disaster, still decided to rebuild.

The situation is much the same now St. Charles is facing a hard time because of the North Star fire. And again, the congregation decided to rebuild. Todd hopes the town will see this as a testament of faith in it, that “somebody in the community wants to stay.”