The Service Circle

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

During the middle years of the 20th century, there existed an organization within our church known as the Service Circle. It was composed of women from the church who provided volunteer assistance to both the church and the community. It generally contained between 20 and 30 members. Officers were elected and meetings were held at the homes of various members, at 10:30 a.m. on the first Wednesday and the third Thursday of each month. Dues were $1 per year.

In 1968-69, the President of the Circle was Margaret Bach; Vice-President, Norma Gordon; Secretary, Ruby Heierman; and Treasurer, Edith Stillwell. Committees were chaired by Bertha Heis, Dorothy Mueller, Eloise White, Emma Hessler, Muriel Steelman, Marion Young, Elizabeth Von Unruh and Tella Schuck.

A reading of the minutes of this group from 1960-1971 yields a picture of their volunteer activities. The group sent out get-well cards and letters to ill members of the congregation. The church held family nights every Friday night, and for two months out of the year and the Circle would volunteer to run the dinner. This included set-up and cooking. Meat loaf was often the main course.

After moving into the new Salem Acres home of the church, the Circle – along with the Clara Barton Society – hosted a poolside card party. (Yes, the legend is true … Salem Acres did have a swimming pool!) Several times, our church hosted regional meetings and dinners, and the Circle group was responsible for providing food and set-up.

The group held two fundraisers a year – a bazaar and a rummage sale. From these two events, money was raised to support many activities. For example, the group donated $250 toward electrical repairs in the old Essex Street church building. One hundred dollars was donated toward the purchase of a new piano. A new cabinet was purchased for the kitchen. S&H Green Stamps (how many of you are willing to admit you remember S&H Green Stamps?!) were collected for the purchase of a new clock for the pastor’s study.

In the broader community, the Circle volunteered at the Red Cross. Among their volunteer activities were knitting and sewing clothing for soldiers in Vietnam. The largest activity of the Circle was visiting patients at Longview Hospital once a month. The women would travel to the hospital after the Thursday meeting and conduct games, singalongs, and other activities. They also brought presents and held an annual Christmas party for the patients. They were assigned to a specific ward, and had contact with the same people on each successive visit.

Longview was a mental hospital that was then in its last years of existence. Opened in the 1830s, it was the first “lunatic asylum” constructed in the state of Ohio. By the 1940s, it housed almost 3,500 patients, though it only had room for about 1,500. The discovery of mood altering drugs in the 1950s greatly reduced the number of institutionalized patients. Also, group homes and smaller residencies were beginning to open to serve the needs of the mentally ill. Our wonderful ladies took time out of their schedules to see that some of those patients who were still in need of hospitalization had regular visitors.

During its existence, the Service Circle was a stalwart organization in the church. Its members were among the most active contributors to both the church and the community. However, as modern society’s economic pressures grew, and need for two household incomes encroached, the Service Circle eventually disappeared. But they should be remembered for all the good they accomplished.