In Celebration of One Hundred Years
“History was never my strong subject in school so I couldn’t believe that the words “I will do that” came from my mouth at a Congregational Development meeting during a discussion of our up-coming centennial celebration. Delving into the large oak chest, however, brought to light the vibrant past of this church. I was struck by the members and the rectors who worked so tirelessly and who dedicated so much of their lives that we might have the parish that we have today. It is hoped that in each chapter of our church history written over the next five months their commitment can be brought to life.”
-L. Caesar 2006
1906 – 1926
While All Saints’ existed as a “mission” of Christ Church in Watertown before 1906, the date for our parish as “independent” is the starting point of the 100 year commemoration that we celebrate this year. Prior to 1906, a congregation gathered and met (as far back as 1850) in various places throughout Oakville, one place being the old Webb Shop and another being the Good Temperance Hall on Davis Street. Religious services were conducted at various times by rectors of Christ Church and St. John’s in Waterbury. By 1888 a small building stood where the church stands now. It was a chapel used for services and doubled as a hall for meetings and other secular purposes. This was made possible by the fund raising efforts of the Reverend Mr. Cunningham. For a time, the tower bell from the Old Academy in Watertown was hung in the steeple at All Saints’ chapel, but was returned in 1913.
The Reverend Joseph A. Stansfield was appointed the “minister-in-charge” in 1903, and in 1906, under his leadership, All Saints’ became an independent parish. Thus Reverend Stansfield became the first rector of All Saints’ parish. In 1907 All Saints’ was admitted into union with the diocese. At about this time, an addition to the chapel was made and improvements such as new heating and lighting were made. In the same year the Reverend Stansfield resigned due to his health and the Reverend Joseph A. Biddle became the rector.
The debt incurred by the additional and needed construction to the church had to be paid off before the church could be consecrated. New windows, seating in the chapel and a new furnace had been added during the Reverend Biddle’s tenure. An article that appeared in a local paper of the time gave the credit for ensuring that this debt was paid to the efforts of Reverend Biddle. The article pointed out that while the church may not have been new, it could not, by church law, be consecrated until it was clear and free of debt. A service of Consecration was held on September 28, 1911, in which Bishop Brewster of the Diocese officiated and the Reverend Biddle preached. Today, the certificate of Consecration hangs in the hallway opposite the sacristy. This must have been a joyful day in the then short life of All Saints’.
Reverend Biddle worked tirelessly to build up the parish by adding new families and activities. In reading the names of the officers and of contributors of gifts given to the church about this time familiar names such as Recker and Woodward appear. This is a witness to the foundation laid so many years ago and which lasts until today.
It seems that not long after the consecration of the original church, Reverend Biddle left and the Reverend Todd took up the reins from him. The Reverend Leonard Todd was vicar at St. John’s Church in Waterbury and was called to be rector of this church in the flourishing community of Oakville in 1912. As noted in a newspaper article about the rector at the end of his career in Oakville, he gave eleven of the best years of his life to his church and his community.
He came with assurances that the church would thrive and so it seems it did, despite factors that would have thwarted a weaker man.
Not only did the church grow, but the Reverend Todd worked tirelessly in the community, especially with the Boy Scouts; he was the first Boy Scout leader in Oakville. During his years in Oakville he had a great influence among the boys of the parish. It is a tribute to his ministry that three young men went on to become Episcopal ministers: Mark T. Carpenter, Warren R. Fenn, and Leonard Hawkins Flisher.
During his tenure this area was affected by an influenza epidemic; he and the scouts carried necessities to the sick. During this difficult time, Mr. Todd maintained a schedule of services even when many could not attend. Despite the illness there was such growth that a building fund for a new church was begun and the first rectory was acquired in 1914. This building is now our “Red Building”!
Reverend Todd married while he served the people of All Saints’. The couple had three children while living here so the rectory was needed and the parish responded.
It is interesting to note that during his tenure the average yearly income for the parish was $2277.00 and the vestry struggled with the question of whether the members would be able to pledge more than the $2500.00 that was needed to cover expenses. (Some things never change!)
Some other items of interest gleaned from the pages of the history of those years:
• The Brotherhood of St. Anthony was active at All Saints’. The
mission – “… the spread of Christ’s Kingdom among boys.”
• In the Parish Report of 1916: 140 families, 100 Sunday School
students, 10 Baptisms, 20 confirmed, 4 marriages, 6 burials.
Reverend Todd’s resignation became effective on September 15, 1922. Due to ill health, he decided that he needed an extended period of rest.
By 1923, the fourth rector, the Reverend Charles C. Kelsey had arrived at All Saints’. He served for four years but little is recorded or known about our parish during this time. His tenure brings us to the end of our first “chapter” of our history lesson.
1926 – 1946
So little is known of those years between 1923 and 1926 in the life of our parish. In our minds should be imprinted the importance of keeping a record of the present so that decades from now, members of All Saints’ will not have to wonder about the history of these present years.
A parish publication that was preserved outlines the parish budget for 1925. The annual parish supper was held on December 3, 1924, and the 230 confirmed members were invited to attend. The only other thing noted of this time was the note that the Reverend Kelsey, who began his tenure in 1923, submitted his resignation in November, 1926. It took effect on March 1, 1927. Thus the fifth rector, the Reverend Alfred N. Samwell, arrived in 1928, to begin his tenure after having served as a chaplain in the army and as a curate in New York City.
Father Samwell led a vigorous and talented group of parishioners. The Young Peoples’ Fellowship presented many plays for the Oakville community. Actors’ names included K. Flisher, Reid Hoffman, Joe Baxter and Ada Hallock and their thespian efforts were frequently noted in the Republican-American. Pictures of the casts and billets of such plays as “The Adventures of Grandpa” and “The Dutch Detective” were dutifully preserved in the parish records. There was a men’s club, a children’s choir, and for at least one summer, a vacation church school combined with the Union Congregational Church. Father Samwell’s ministry was particularly fruitful in the area of Sunday School.
Sadly, his ministry ended with his death on May 13, 1938, while still serving as Rector. The large oak vestment chest in the sacristy was given in his memory as noted on its inscription plate “by those whom he served so well.”
The Reverend Edward Roff Merrill replaced Father Samwell as our sixth rector. It seems that despite the circumstances of this time, the parish never missed a beat (a credit to both the new pastor and his flock). Reverend Merrill was present as teas, fellowship, and fairs kept members active in keeping the parish together at a time when World War II was prominent in the news and in the minds of all. Women of the parish wrapped Christmas packages to be sent to the troops overseas and prepared bandages for the wounded. The church’s interior was refurbished using money from a very successful luncheon and card party as well as other fund raising efforts.
About 1940 the All Saints’ Homestead Fair began and became an annual event. It was held in June on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Fair events included a kiddies midway, a nightly drawing for a U.S. Savings Bond, crafts, games and refreshments. Particularly noted was the strawberry shortcake. Could there be any present parish members who can recall these days?
Finally, with world conditions as they were, the war intruded into our Parish Life. In March, 1944, the Reverend Merrill requested and was granted a leave of absence to become a chaplain in the armed forces. St. John’s Church, Waterbury, supplied clergy for services until sometime in 1945 when Reverend Merrill resigned.
An interesting occurrence between the time Reverend Merrill left and our seventh rector arrived was a dispute over the possible appointment of a Japanese-American minister in place of Reverend Merrill. Evidently, the parish decided not to call him due to his ethnicity and the possible difficulty of accepting him in this time of post-war attitudes.
The Reverend Frank A. Squires became the next minister in 1945, beginning a four year ministry described as “energetic.”
1946 – 1966
The next four decades of our one hundred years as an independent parish brings us into the modern, post war era. We find the Reverend Frank Squires, an “energetic leader who hailed originally from Naugatuck, called to Oakville from Montana. The “parish” from whence he came covered an area in square miles more than twice the size of Connecticut. He began his service on November 15, 1945.
During his four year tenure many activities continued without interruption. The 7th, 8th and 9th Annual Fairs were held and the Sunday School and confirmation classes continued to grow. Such activities were vital to the parish as it appears that the buildings were in need of repair, the present church building was too small, and a lack of a serviceable fellowship hall were seen as hindrances
There is no record of Father Squires’ departure or the conditions under which he left but it is clear that on June 1, 1949, the Reverend Perry Miller was present as our eighth rector. Having worked in the state offices for a time, he then turned to the ministry and had been ordained in 1948. He continued to keep our church “moving ahead,” and it was during his tenure that the talk of a new church building and parish hall took a more serious tone.
In an Every Member Canvas report in 1953, the parish had 133 active and pledging members, a budget of $7663.00, and a building fund had been begun. All Saints’ had a Boy Scout Pack (#4), and the church members (judging from pictures found in an album) shared friendship and fellowship within the parish. References to an outing in Harwinton and musicals put on by parish members are plentiful. Skits included players of the rector himself, complete with mop head costume, Harry Albone, Joe Baxter, Norm Nichols, and Paul Cooper. Evidently there was no temerity in that cast judging by the get-ups
and the smiles and obvious enjoyment!
An Easter pageant was another production worth noting.
Given on a Sunday afternoon, it was directed by Miss Irene Bussemey. Costumes were made by the youth council and the music was provided by Burke Hoffman, organist, and Ann Bussemey, soloist. A cast of characters too long to mention here was listed in an article in the newspaper and preserved in an album.
Our ninth rector was called in June, 1954. This was the Reverend Standish MacIntosh. He came from a parish in South Dakota, having ministered to Indians missions on reservations there. By his tenure, the church hall and rectory were badly in need of renovating or rebuilding. In fact, an article in the Waterbury paper reported of a meeting held by parish members to explore the possibilities of building a new church at a different location. A Planning Committee was formed to investigate all the possibilities, including sites. Opinion seemed to swing in favor of rebuilding on the same piece of land and securing a house as a rectory. Then the rectory was our present “Red Building” which now houses The Owl and the Pussycat Preschool.
At the January 20th Annual Parish meeting of 1958 the already existing Planning and Building Committee was expanded from seven to twelve members “in light of a long-term building project that ultimately includes a new church, parish hall and rectory,” the work being termed as “in the planning stage.” Toward the end of 1959
All Saints’ did purchase a home at 67 Pleasant View Street, Oakville,
to be used as the rectory.
However Reverend MacIntosh never saw this happen as he took a new position in Lime Rock, Connecticut. In his letter of resignation he wrote, “I assure…the parish of my love and esteem for all the members, my gratitude for countless evidence of their goodwill, patience, support, and my continuing concern for their welfare…”
His resignation took effect on August 31, 1958. Whether our members foresaw Reverend MacIntosh’s departure is not clear, but the future of All Saints’ was going to bring great changes, with him or without him.
With the departure of Reverend MacIntosh, a priest by the name of Reverend Samuel Elliott, a former Air Force chaplain, became the Vicar at All Saints’. During his short term of service in 1959 and 1960, the parish plans moved forward rapidly. There is evidence that he worked hard with the Building Committee and a financial drive went into action. Due to the excellent planning of the committee previous to his arrival, a booklet was printed with a message from Bishop Gray, Bishop of Connecticut, pictures of the sorely inadequate space the parish was using, drawings of the new church and parish hall floor plans and exterior design. It was quite impressive.
Through the hard work of parishioners holding fairs, carnivals, and a benefit variety show held at Swift School, starring the “Top Hatters,” a well-known area singing group, money continued to be raised for the building endeavor. It was estimated that $76,000.00 would be needed through such efforts as fund raising, but a pledge drive separate from the annual pledges, a campaign to reach out to the area businesses, and a bank loan were pursued.
By February 1, 1960, our tenth rector, the Reverend G. Rowell Crocker, was here and the demolition of the old church and the building of the new church and hall became a reality. The dedication of the new buildings took place on December 15, 1960. Former rectors MacIntosh, Squires, and Miller were present to see the fruition of the work in which they each had a part and to witness Bishop Esquirol install Reverend Crocker as the “new” rector. It should be noted that Reverend Crocker’s installation was delayed for almost a year as the church construction prevented a worthy ceremony in his new parish. He served for two and a half years until 1963 when he retired and moved to Wethersfield.
The Reverend Douglas T. Cooke became our eleventh rector in September of 1963. His was described as a “particularly vibrant” ministry for the eight years that he served here. Overseeing his first Confirmation class, Reverend Cooke presented a class of 25, the largest in our history.
The church fairs continued and it appears that with the loan, the construction costs and a rectory, the parish struggled to keep up with its financial responsibilities. The fund raisers were indeed more important than ever. Donations from our sister church, Christ Church, Watertown, and proceeds from a project of our youth group were given to the Building Fund. However, it is noted that Reverend Cooke initiated many and varied activities within our congregation and in the community.
1966 – 1986
In the last segment written as a commemoration of one hundred years as an independent parish, the Reverend Cooke had become rector as of September, 1963. Our present church structure had been built and dedicated but the Reverend Cooke left his mark in numerous ways. In 1966 the “final” touch was added when the new pews, baptismal font, clergy seat and kneeling desk, the rector’s chair, the paschal candle holder and the processional candles were dedicated. These lasting fixtures which still grace the sanctuary of the church are reminders of the dedication of those members who gave so much to our parish. Twenty-nine families came forth to donate these furnishings which were formally dedicated in a special Palm Sunday service celebrated by Father Cooke.
Parish Life included the Women’s Auxiliary, a Children’s Choir, and a large and active Sunday School. A pictorial directory of the parish documented a membership of sixty-nine families and/or individuals.
One of the members pictured in the directory was Ann Bussemey. It was this young woman who married Reverend Cooke in 1970.
They were married at All Saints’ on Saturday, April 11th in a ceremony to which the entire parish was invited. The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, Rt. Reverend John H. Esquirol, was the celebrant. The official parish representatives were Joe Baxter, Everitt Barney, Norman Nichols, and Milton Vera, all officers of the vestry.
It was not long after this joyous occasion that the Reverend and Mrs. Cooke left All Saints’. Father Cooke was named consultant for church schools and youth ministries for the Diocese of Connecticut. At their farewell reception the congregation presented them with a grandfather clock.
From the time of Father Cooke’s departure in 1970 until 1977,
All Saints’ had as its religious leaders a series of clergymen that were assigned to part-time duties; they were the Reverend Robert Seekens, the Reverend G. Windsor Spellman, the Reverend William Tedesco, and the Reverend Canon Earl Estabrook. While serving at All Saints’ Father Seekens continued his studies in Drug and Alcohol Abuse at the University of Connecticut. The Reverend Spellman was Vicar of Trinity parish in Northfield at the time he served at All Saints’ from 1972-1974.
Upon the departure of Reverend Spellman, the Reverend William Tedesco was appointed curate at Christ Church, Watertown, and curate at All Saints’ where he was to give most of his attention and energy. All Saints’ was his first position in the ministry and he gave of himself fully. He and his wife, Rose, through their hard work and dedication earned the respect and love of our parish members. Though here for only three years, Father Bill will be remembered for starting our monthly newsletter, the Reporter, introducing the “new” Book of Common Prayer (no easy task, I am told), and introduced the concept of proportionate giving successfully as he saw pledges as well as membership increase. It was during his tenure that the present nursery building was aluminum-sided in its red coat. Many long time members still refer to it as the “Red Building”. In the words of past historian, Harry Albone, Reverend Tedesco “deserves much credit for returning All Saints’ Parish to the status of a vibrant parish.”
When Father Tedesco left the parish, an interim priest was appointed. This was Reverend Canon Earl Estabrook, a retired clergy, who was responsible for officiating at Sunday services. The people of the parish kept activities going for this six month interim. On Wednesday afternoons the Reverend Andrew Zeman from Christ Church, Bethlehem, would officiate at the service of the Episcopal Church Women. (Yes, the one and only Andrew Zeman!)
It was five and a half months after Father Tedesco’s departure that All Saints’ welcomed its twelfth rector and its first full-time rector in six years. A young priest came from a church in New Jersey to lead our parish in many and varied endeavors. His name was Reverend Robert Odierna or “Odie” as he was known to all. The parish undertook a variety of projects: The selling of the rectory on Pleasant View Street in Oakville, the purchase of the property adjacent to the church, the demolition of the building on that land and the construction of our parking lot in its place, the Memorial Garden for Burial, the renovation of the rector’s office, fans and storm windows for the church, and a new tabernacle behind the altar. Activities such as the Wild Goose chases, Chariot races for the youth, Mother’s Day plant sale, Soap Opera softball games, and the Family Week-ends in New England were popular with young and old alike. Membership growth was quite noticeable as was Sunday School enrollment and youth group attendance. We were financially strengthened through the Paul and Marion Cooper endowment which was given to the church during Odie’s time; he saw to it that this endowment was invested wisely. Father Odie encouraged the commission system started by Father Tedesco as a means to give members a chance to lead and the work of our church within the parish and in the community was strengthened.
After eight years of outstanding leadership, Father Odie took a position in a larger parish in New Hampshire. He left us with the encouraging words that “God [is in] the All Saints’ community and His love beckons you to respond…”
1986 – 2006
Surprisingly, the last segment of our church history is the most difficult to write. Perhaps this is because it is harder to write an objective account of something in which one is more closely involved, but an attempt will be made to be a most objective reporter.
Toward the end of Odie’s time with us, a substantial gift was willed to the parish and the Paul and Marion Cooper Fund became a contributing factor to the improving soundness of the parish. It would be up to the vestry to be wise stewards and invest wisely for the good of the parish and as a way to honor the memory of the Coopers.
After as dynamic and strong a leader as Odie had been, it was agreed that it would be hard to replace him. As it turned out, our next interim priest was an able leader and up to the challenge of winning the parish over to his style. The Reverend Paul Morton served here from March, 1986, to April, 1987, a rather lengthy an interim period as these assignments were likely to be. He left a lasting impression due to his optimistic outlook and his sermons each week. His tenure became far more than a priest “filling in” for Sunday services.
Despite a full-time position in the telecommunications industry, he officiated at services each week, at baptisms, weddings, and funerals for church members and their families and, due to his caring efforts, did much to preserve our church’s optimism during the lengthy search process. He will be remembered for his sense of humor, his upbeat services and his unique outlook at life. His presence and that of his wife, Kathy, and their daughter, Thea, at services and parish functions endeared him to church members and made it possible for us to be (in his words) “the little church that could.”
At his final service on April 26, 1987, he was presented with balloons at the “peace” and, at a potluck luncheon following the service, he was presented with the birthday box and a cake with the words “Thanks be to God” spelled out as largely as he expected us to respond at the end of each service.
The search process finally came to an end with the calling of Reverend Craig Welbaum. In August of 1987 Father Craig, his wife Mary Ales, and his son Michael came to us from Glen Ellen, Illinois, where he had served in a large parish as an assistant pastor. He served energetically at All Saints’, starting programs that served members who desired to delve into Bible discussion and
In the November after his arrival, a ceremony for Father Craig’s installation as pastor was observed. At this All Saints’ Day ceremony, the 100th anniversary of the founding of our parish as a mission of Christ Church, Watertown, was also celebrated. In the months just prior to this event, the bell from our original church’s steeple was discovered in the cellar of the church. It was only fitting to rededicate the bell at this time and to have it once more call us to services which it has done each week since its rededication in 1987. Another notable addition during Father Craig’s ministry was the completion and blessing of the hand-embroidered kneeler cushions that still adorn the altar railing step. This was a project completed by a group of women of the parish and blessed by Father Craig on the first Sunday they were used in church. Another important achievement was the formation of a committee to write a set of formal by-laws for the parish. Under the guidance of Father Craig and the industriousness of a committee headed by Harry Albone, this work was completed successfully.
During this time, the parish continued many activities including suppers and numerous fund raising projects. Father Craig worked right along side his parish members. He also was involved in community endeavors in Watertown and Oakville. He was active in the Tres Dias spiritual movement and encouraged parish members to become involved.
As the parish entered the decade of the 90s it became apparent that the vestry and Father Craig had differences of opinions as to the direction the parish should take and so, after some discussions and diocesan negotiations, Father Craig resigned his position as of June 30, 1991.
Thus, on or about, July 1, 1991, we were introduced to the Reverend Canon William Penny, who was appointed as interim priest. A retired priest from New York, who resided in Bantam, it was soon obvious to the parish that Father Penny had no idea what it meant to be retired. (God bless him) He became involved in all facets of Parish Life from visiting the sick and homebound to attending vestry meetings. He began an adult education group held at noon on Fridays. Both he and his wife, Natalie, attended parish functions, thus lending their support.
Father Penny did much by his presence and energy to help keep All Saints’ a parish united in our mission and vision. In December of 1992, with our fourteenth minister about to arrive, we bid what we thought was farewell to Father Penny.
The search committee had been very busy and worked efficiently in finding our next minister, the Reverend Judith Toffey. The calling of Reverend Judith was a courageous step, as there had never been a female minister at our church or, for that matter, in the area. Both Reverend Judith and the search committee felt it was a good fit and so, Judith Toffey came back to her home area, having grown up in Waterbury and Wolcott. She had been at a parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and had not been living in Connecticut since she had gone away to college in Boston.
Her formal installation as our minister was held in April of 1993; the officiating Bishop was Clarence Coleridge. Judith invited him to observe the Holy Thursday service with us the following year and thus it has been “traditional” to have one of our Bishops with us for that special service. Judith also reached out in friendship to Father Penny and so, our farewell didn’t “stick” and Father Penny returned over and over to celebrate and mourn with us, and lend us his encouragement for many years.
Judith continued programs such as the noon Bible study and Eucharist which grew in the number of participants under her direction. She was involved in the Ecumenical Council in town and took part in the prayer services sponsored by them. She worked hard to build up the parish both spiritually and financially, proving herself an able steward. She encouraged us to tithe our fair share to the diocese and, though it took several years, we achieved that goal.
She took part in our activities working along side us at the gift wrapping at the mall, decorating the church for the holidays, the October Fest potato baking, the tag sales, and the suppers. She enjoyed the Women’s Only Week-ends and the choir parties.
Not long after Judith came, Bill Hammerman approached Judith about a project he wanted to start. With her approval and encouragement, Bill and a group of industrious workers began the first stained-glass window. One by one the windows were finished and replaced the plain glass ones. Considering the scope of the project it was completed rather quickly and the beautiful additions were blessed in a ceremony attended by the bishop. This work made news in town and throughout the state as articles appeared in the Waterbury paper as well as the diocesan paper.
Also, Judith spurred on major improvements such as the painting of the church interior and doors, the purchasing of the ceiling fans in church and the red rug that adorns the church aisle as well as the refinishing of the altar chairs and kneelers. She also planted the idea of grant writing which years later helped us to make improvements to the parking lot, purchase and install the dividers in the hall, replace the windows in the “Red Building”, and build the recently completed storage space in the church hall.
After working with us for eight years, Judith answered a call to live and work in the Middle East. Once again we would need an interim priest. The vestry planned to interview priests and find one to fit our needs rather than have one appointed by the diocese. Our one and only interview was with a minister just finishing an interim position in Middlebury. They met with her one Sunday morning and promptly realized she would fit us just fine. The Reverend Terry Wysong became our second interim in ten years. She began her work with us in February of 2001.
So we come now to events and activities so fresh in the minds of many of us that they aren’t recognized as history but rather are simply memories. Reverend Terry saw our strengths and encouraged them. She examined our weaknesses and made us aware of them. She presided over our parish as her own; we learned from her and, in some ways, she learned from us. She encouraged us when we needed it but never gave us a false sense of our abilities as a parish. Both she and Father Penny saw our greatest strength not in our location, our age as a parish or our traditions, but rather, in the God-given gifts of our members, past and present.
Four years ago, we welcomed our fifteenth minister: The Rev. Andrew H. Zeman and his wife, Linda and son, William. Hopefully we have learned from our past those things taught by the faith and Spirit-filled actions of those who brought the parish to where it is today. Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. THANKS BE TO GOD!