Sunday, June 7, 2009

Beginnings of the Branch, Part 2: Finding Missing Members

By June1929 James T. Greer had moved to Aurora and found a job at Lyon Metal. He started in the shipping department making wooden crates for the lockers and metal office furniture the factory produced. Later he worked as a paint mixer.

We pick up our story with this excerpt from The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, an oral history edited by Doug Erekson in 1982. Myrtle is speaking:"Jim wrote me a letter. (You didn’t call in those days like you do now.) He wrote and told me he got this job and found a house. He told me to pack up what I could, have the Johnsons take me to the railroad station, and come to Chicago. He would meet me there.

"I had a big long box or chest, and I put all the clothes I could in there and a few other things. I even took some strawberries. (I had so many strawberries that year. I hated to leave them.) I locked the door, and [Oscar] Johnson picked us up in his wagon and taken Jimmy and me and Louise to the depot. We got on the train at Cypress and got off in Chicago. Jim was there to meet me, and we got on that little third-rail and came out to Aurora. On the way out, we’s all sitting on the seat and, of course, I was telling Jim all about the things that happened, and all of a sudden Jimmy [age 2] reached up and put his arms around Jim’s neck and says, “My daddy!” He was telling us he recognized him, you know. It was so funny. “That’s my dad!” and he laughed."
(Chicago Aurora and Elgin interurban cars in operation at the Illinois Railway Museum in 2003. Photo by Frank Hicks)

Myrtle continues: "Jim had rented this house on Howard Avenue [northwestern outskirts of Aurora] for $15 a month. It had a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and two porches. Jim had a bed and a mattress on the floor, a kerosene stove, and one chair in the house. That’s all we had because I couldn’t bring the furniture up with me.

"That night the missionaries came. The two of them had all this area to take care of, and they told Jim that he was to be in charge of cottage meetings in his home. [Cottage meetings were gospel discussions held on week nights in homes of members during 1930s and 40s and probably earlier. By the mid-to-late-1950s the term “cottage meetings” fell out of use.] President Pond [the mission president] didn’t come out and confirm him, but the missionaries turned it over to him. We didn’t have but one chair in the house and a mattress, but we started having cottage meetings that very week and have had them ever since."

The names of the missionaries who were stationed in Aurora that summer have not survived in oral or written history, but we do have this photo of Elder M. Eugene Williams given to Jim and Myrtle Greer in December 1929. If not one of the missionaries who welcomed the Greers to Aurora, he was certainly one of the first who worked with them. Little did he know what would come of it. Elder Williams lists his home address as 1460 Roosevelt Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah. (We have this photo because it was customary at that time--and up through the 1950s--for missionaries to give postcard-sized photos to members and write a brief note of appreciation and encouragement on the back.)

"As far as the missionaries knew, we were the only ones in the whole town that was members. The missionaries gave us little cards we’d take around. It would tell that there was a Mormon Church in Aurora, and asked if you were a member, or do you know any members, and did you ever hear about the Mormon Church? We took those cards around from house to house—now Jim taken them, I taken them, and the missionaries taken them—and we hunted people to see if anybody was a member of the Church or to see if we could get people interested.

"Somebody told me that Sister Stemple was a member, and I went over there and knocked on the door, and I said to her, “Are you a member of the Mormon Church?” She said, “Yes, come in.” She said there wasn’t nobody else here that was members and I said, “Well, we’re here and we’re going to start a branch, and we want you to come.” She said all right, she’d be glad to. So she started coming.

"Then we found Sister Minnehan. She thought she’d lost the Church, it’d been so long you know. Then we found the Wendts. Nobody knew they was members and they didn’t tell nobody. They had kept it a secret about being members. Brother Ottinger and his wife and two children, they was from Batavia, and we found them."

This is a story I have known all my life, but I remain dumbfounded at the matter-of-fact faith in the words: “Well, we’re here and we’re going to start a branch.” That's exactly what they did. And the invitation "And we want you to come" encapsulates the work of the rest of their lives.

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