NORHILL METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH 1924 - 1939
By 1924, six years after the signing of the armistice ending World War I, the United States was in the midst of a relatively prosperous period. President Warren G. Harding had died unexpectedly a year earlier leaving a number of scandals for his successor, Calvin Coolidge. Oscar F. Holcombe, the old "Grey Fox," was mayor of Houston - a city also experiencing the growth of the times. Street cars and "jitneys'' were busily carrying people all over the city before the influence and dependence of the motor car took over. And Zion German Methodist Episcopal Church became Norhill Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. W. L. Froehner, pastor.
A deed recorded in volume 695, page 348 of the Harris County deed records is dated January 3, 1924, from Varner Realty Company and conveyed to Norhill Methodist Episcopal Church (no trustees named) lots 11, 12, and 13 in block No. 133 of North Norhill Addition to the City of Houston for the sum of $2500. The seller retained 1/16 of all oil, gas and other minerals in and under said property. The lots were at the northeast comer of East 11th Street and Norhill Boulevard. The Assessor's Block Book for the City of Houston, volume 23, page 213 shows the location of this property.
This property was purchased nine months before the sale of the church at White and Lubbock Streets.
In the spring of 1924, a new parsonage was completed at 1031 E. 11th Street, but the pastor continued to live on White Street as services were still being held at the old church. However, the new building was utilized for Sunday School classes and other church activities. A certain amount of church membership was guaranteed when the move was made but growth was always top priority.
The Methodist Mission Board appointed a deaconess, Miss Lydia Ebel to work with Rev. W. L. Froehner to canvass the new neighborhood for prospective members. Miss Ebel's background and subsequent mission is described in the following letter written many years after she came to Norhill:
“I graduated from Dorcas Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio, as a Methodist Deaconess in May 1924 and soon after that came to Houston, Texas, to work in a church there. The church was Zion Methodist Episcopal Church, North. I stayed in the home of the minister and his family - the Rev. Walter L. Froehner. They had two small boys. Mrs. Froehner was a wonderful person, so kind and gracious to me, knowing I must be homesick often. She always set a fine table with white cloth. As a student I was not used to that nor from home where we were a large family around a long table with oilcloth cover.”
“My duties included mostly canvassing a new housing development where this Methodist Church had purchased quite a plot of land for a frame church. They had built a parsonage and it was to be used for Sunday School until such time when more building could be done. I was to find out the church affiliations of the families living there and those building in that area. It was becoming a very active community and we began having Sunday school soon after I came there. Our first Sunday we had more children than I could handle alone, so from that time on we had a regular teaching staff to assist me. It was not too long before we could not accommodate all who came the early hour, so had two sessions every Sunday for many, many weeks. Building an educational building was started soon after I came to Houston, which was in the spring of 1924. “I shall always be grateful to many people who 'put up with me.'
"The way the church paid for my room and board was to 'farm me out' to various families every month or so. It was quite an experience to live with a different family so often, but I came to love then and appreciate what it must have meant to a family to take in one more person and it often was a crowded situation. Each family would give me a lunch to take with me to the church area and I would try to come bock to back to the parsonage (the new one) and eat my lunch as well as change my stockings which were always dirty from the dust and sand, for there were no sidewalks nor even paved streets, and cotton stockings don't ever dry fast, even in Texas, and I had to have several pair to make out. I got a very small allowance for my salary and buying two pair of stockings meant quite a lot at that time. My allowance at that time and for the next 25 years was $30.00 a month. From it was deducted a small amount for pension and the employing institution (Zion Methodist Episcopal Church at that time) paid a small amount when the allowance was sent to Bethesda Deaconess Association, Cincinnati, Ohio. It was through that institution that deaconesses at that time came to be employed. This was a German institution and the Zion Methodist Church was a German church and contact was by way of the District Superintendent. The District Superintendent at that time was Rev. A. A. Leifeste. 1 was very fortunate in being able to spend some time in a District parsonage also as in other member's homes.
"As l recall, this church was known as the Norhill Methodist Church. I think I was the first Sunday School teacher in that church as we met in the parsonage for quite a while. The parsonage was also used for some groups at night and also we had a group of children after school for catechism classes for quite some months. Rev. Froehner conducted these classes. I did not keep a diary ever and so I must rely on my memory for many things but I shall always remember the kind people of that church and the opportunity I had to contribute something to the beginning of what I understand is now a very large and active church. I thank God for all of you.''
After the sale of the property at White and Lubbock Streets in September 1924, plans for the first unit of the church facility on E. 11th were initiated. The Building Committee for the Norhill project consisted of:
E. E. Schmalz, Chairman
Rev. Walter L. Froehner is shown turning the first spade of earth at the 1925 groundbreaking ceremony for the new Norhill Methodist Church.
The first unit of the Norhill Methodist Church was completed in early 1925. In July, a three-day Golden Jubilee and Dedication service was held celebrating a fifty-year history since the Emanuel Church was founded as well as consecrating the newly-built Norhill sanctuary and class rooms.
The Golden Jubilee and Dedication Program, July 17th to 19th, 1925
Up until this time 16 ministers had served the Emanuel and Zion churches. Six were deceased: Rev. Rudolph Brueck, Rev. G. Dosdall, Rev. Ferdinand Mumme, Rev. John Jacob Kienle, Rev. Henry Hoffman and Rev. J. Wesley Pfaeffle. Eight participated in the celebration: Rev. J. William Buehrer. Rev. William Makowski, Rev. August Didzum, Rev. J. Edward Reifschneider, Rev. G.C. Brannies, Rev. W.L. Froehner, Rev. C.F. Boltnfolk and Rev. Henry W. Bahler. Revs. Herman Homburg and J.J. Ott were unable to attend. Rev. A.A. Leifeste, superintendent of the Brenham District, presided over the Offertory and later declared the church free of debt after the collection was determined to be in excess of $2,100. Rev. W.A. Moers was in charge of the dedicatory ceremonies.
The church continued to grow and in 1927, during the pastorate of Rev. A. A. Leifeste, the educational wing on the east side was extended to the E. 11th property line. In 1932, while Rev. H. M. Hopkins was pastor, a new educational facility was constructed to the west, extending to the Norhill Blvd. property line. However, a large sanctuary was yet to be built.
This picture from The Houston Chronicle depicts the additional education unit that was added to Norhill Methodist Church in 1932.
At one time three women's organizations were active at Norhill Methodist Church - The Ladies Aid Society, The Women's Foreign Missionary Society, and the Home Missionary Society. These groups later consolidated to form The Ladies Aid and Missionary Society. Details of their work have been lost over time but it can safely be assumed they accomplished much to the good of church and community. Mrs. E. E. Draeger was the Ladies' first president and other presidents included Mrs. Louis Gren, Mrs. W. A. Radenz, Mrs. W. E. Vater and Mrs. E. Y. Blount.
Norhill Methodist Church also gave rise to one of the original Boy Scout Troops in the Houston area, Troop 30 - a Scouting tradition that remains to this day at St. Mark's. A historical retrospective on Troop 30 is recounted by L.E. 'Buck' Froehner:
"M. W. Franer joined Boy Scout Troop 21 in 1920. Mr. C. E. Roco was his Scoutmaster. Mr. Frank Hueter was the Asst. Scoutmaster. At this time Troop 21 was meeting at Bering Memorial Methodist Church at Milam and McKinney. I was living on Lubbock Street.
“About 1924, Bering Methodist Church moved to Harold and Mulberry Streets (its present location). I joined Troop 21 at this location. My family moved from Lubbock St. to Woodland Heights soon after. When we moved to Merrill Street, we got our neighbor boy, Arthur Hansen, to join the Scouts. We soon decided this was too far to travel (to Bering Methodist), so we decided to start a Troop near home. We approached the board of Norhill Methodist Church and they decided to sponsor a Troop.
"When we left Troop 21, they gave us some equipment and a piece of a tent. Our first meeting was held in our living room at 508 Merrill on a Friday night with five or six boys present. We discussed ways to make money to buy equipment. We used the Sears and Roebuck catalog to see how much money we needed and decided to save scrap paper to earn the money to buy the items.
"When we registered the first time, we were assigned the number 30 for our Troop. My father, W.J. Froehner was Scoutmaster but my brother Marvin took over the chore of active leader, as Asst. Scoutmaster.
"The first hike was to the Lindale Addition near Irvington and Milwaukee Streets. It was from Friday supper through Sunday dinner and the cost was $1.50 for six meals. There were eight boys: A.F. "Doc'' Metzler, Jr. (who later played on the Rice Owl football team that won their first Southwest Conference championship in 1934), Clifton Cobb, Earl Haring, Arthur Hansen, Eugene Wallace, Stanley Logan, Buck Froehner, and a boy named Bruno (probably General Bruno Hockmuth, who was a Boy Scout during that time). We camped at Lindale only two times. After that we went to a place past Kensington. This place is now Forest Park Cemetery, so you see we slept in a graveyard several times.
"The Field Day events always included the following: archery, first aid, fire-building, (friction and flint 'n' steel), nature study, cooking, tent pitching, wall scaling, knot tying and drilling. Field Day was always held close to April 21. The last year that they gave a First Place Trophy, Troop 30 won it. Troop 30 always entered the five-mile Relay Race but they never did win. They did come in last once.
"The year 1931 was ushered in with a new Scoutmaster, Frank K. Herbert. Having taken residence in Houston from Chicago-Detroit and with 15 years of scouting service, he took over Troop 30 in the absence of Mr. Froehner, who was unable to continue due to business commitments. The decade 1931-1940 was noteworthy in the Troop's history, in the establishment of Troop 30 as to the new leader in Scouting in the (then) Houston Council, especially in the highly-regarded Field Day Activities. Mr. Herbert promised that if the Scouts would work hard and follow his leadership, they could win the coveted First Place. As promised, in 1935, Troop 30 won First Place and never relinquished that honor through the years.
"In 1932, the Sea Scout Ship, "Seeadler," was commissioned with J. H. Wilson as skipper. When it was established it had the distinguished honor of having Count Felix von Luckner, "The Sea Devil," commander of the famous sailing schooner-raider of WWI, the original "Seeadler," '' as its honorary First Mate. In a letter he promised to visit Troop 30 and have us on his yacht, "Mopelia." Unfortunately, as he was on his way to Houston, he was ordered by his government to proceed up the Mississippi river to appear at the Chicago World's Fair. Other leaders of the "Seeadler" included L. E. Arnold, A.H. Blume, J.H. Wilson, and Frank Herbert."
As the church grew over the years, so did the Sunday School. Superintendents overseeing that growth included M. J. Adlof, 1925, W. E. Vater, 1926-1936, and B. E. Loeffler, 1937- 1938.
An active young-folks' organization, the Norhill Methodist Epworth League, provided special entertainment from time to time in addition to the regular Sunday evening programs. 1925 Epworth officers were: W.E. Vater, president; H. H. Schmale, 1st vice-president; Lydia Ebel, 2nd vice-president; Mrs. A. Marquart, 3rd vice-president; M. W. Froehner, 4th vice-president; Sophie Nagel, secretary; and A.H. Marquart, treasurer.
The Norhill Methodist Sunday School basketball team brought home a big trophy after winning the 1928-1929 YMCA Championship. Teammates included Edgar Martin, Bland Martin, Dan Keller, Arlie Kobs, Harold Sonsel, Steve Kleinknecht, Leon Huckle, Darcey Kobs, and Leonard Huckle. A softball team, also sponsored by the church, was very active during this period.
At one time, Norhill Methodist was graced with an orchestra - a group of talented members that provided many delightfully entertaining moments over the years. Band members were Lucille Leifeste, saxophone; Alonzo (Pete) Leifeste, saxophone/clarinet/oboe; Harold Wigren, violin; H.L. Falk, trombone; Jerry Dietrich, saxophone; and E.E. Schmalz, trumpet.
The Norhill congregation was a singing church boasting an excellent choir and a male quartet, known as the Norhill Male Quartet. The pastor, choir and quartet often participated in the Skyline Radio Chapel program under the direction of Rev. Charles C. Hard, with the quartet singing on a regular basis at the height of the program's popularity.
The choir directors and pianists who served the church from 1925 through 1939 included:
Due to the needs of a growing congregation in the late 1930s, the Norhill Methodist Church was investigating the construction of larger sanctuary and Sunday School facilities. In the meantime, the Woodland Heights Church was planning to build on their Pecore Avenue site just six blocks away. It was during this period that consideration of a possible merger of the two churches was first brought to mind.
PASTORS OF NORHILL METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, 1924 - 1939
From left to right, Rev. H.M. Hopkins, 1925-26, 1930-33; Rev. A.A. Leifeste, 1926-30, 1936-39; Rev. C.P. Zenor, 1934-36