Reminding some, informing newer folks, let me begin where we are, and why we are where we are.
Early 2020 COVID-19 (then the variant), brought quarantine, and we met on ZOOM every Sunday. Prior to COVID we met in the parish hall of St. Paul Episcopal Church (our “stuff” remains there). Why St. Paul’s? In January of 2011 we became homeless after a fire burned to the ground our 50-year residence, known across the Basin as the former Pine Grove School.
It began as a 1910 one-room county school on Hwy. 140-E. Later a second classroom, and eventually a kitchen and bath were added. Then schools were consolidated. The building evolved into a community center, family residence, an architect’s office and studio, and lastly the UUFKC home, 1961-2011.
Our very beginning (early 1950’s) the cluster of folks (much like a study group), met in homes. In 1957 the group applied and was accepted as a fellowship, by the American Unitarian Association. We had rented, then purchased the Pine Grove building, prior to the 1961 merger of Unitarians and Universalists, becoming the Unitarian Universalist Assoc. (In 1957 I was a college sophomore.)
In June 1994 Lou and I arrived in Klamath Falls, but found nothing UU. (Portland has a UU church at each point of the four directions,) Later we learned in June, July, August the hall was shuttered. Other months the fellowship met only 2nd and 4th Sundays. Being very small (also their treasury), there was no listing in Yellow Pages, or white pages. A contact phone was Ben Kerns’ home phone. (About 2000 there was a hall phone & message machine.)
Also in 1994, the Herald and News’ Friday LIMELIGHTER, had a back cover ad, “ Worship with us this Sunday”. But, never a UU listing.
Lou and I wrote First Unitarian in Portland asking for a newsletter notice: Anyone knowing of UU’s in Klamath Falls, please let us know. A couple weeks later a letter response, from a Kit Baldwin. Small world! Kit and Lou had worked together for county schools for 18 years, but never discussed religion. Kit was surprised that after ten years at Portland Schools, Lou was back in K.F., and retired.
She and late husband, Dick, had been very active with UUFKC, including Dick being board president. (A plaque honoring him was lost in the fire.) After he passed she moved to be near their daughter. (In 2021 Phil Studenberg & Anita Ward may be only ones to recall the Baldwin duo.
AND, Kit shared UU names. Right around the corner from us were Ben Kerns, and second wife Jeannette, on Earle St. Dr. Frank & Doris Johnson were on Manzanita, between Eldorado & Pacific Terrace. (Dr. Frank was Klamath Falls’ first ophthalmologist.)
Come September 1994, Lou & I caught up with the fellowship in Pine Grove. TIDBIT; Ben said initially when they gathered, it was never on Sunday—too Christian! Once part of AUA, Sunday was acceptable. (Imagine how, “new” the Unitarian philosophy was to Klamath Falls in 1950’s!)
Soon Ben also shared he and (first) wife, Phyllis Collier Kerns, the Johnsons, and two other couples put up their own money for a down payment on the Pine Grove building, and its 2 1/2 acres. Twenty years later they burned the mortgage. Ben also told me the building’s seller said to him she wanted the ‘ol school to remain ,”a place of learning”, and she trusted the U’s to do that. For 50 years the UU’s maintained that tradition. Let’s keep up the good work.
Our Archives were begun in 1995. The original folks lived early history, but for whatever reason created no Archives. Maybe privately they thought the fellowship might not last. Let’s salute those folks, as we stand on their shoulders! And wherever we gather we have capability to carry on the school seller’s vision.
In 1996 we held an Open House. Early students shared a privy had been out back, as was a shed to shelter the horses some rode to school. Another guest remembered being with her parents when they voted at the “community center”.
To continue with pre-1994 history I’ve enlisted two valuable fellowship assets, Phil Studenberg and Janet Larson. Ben Kerns and Phil had a special friendship, beginning early in Phil’s long career as a criminal defense attorney. Additionally, he’s in second term as a member of city council.
Janet’s mother was Carolyn Collier Larson. Her sister was Phyllis Collier Kerns, making Ben Kerns brother-in-law to Carolyn, and uncle to Janet. TIDBIT: K F and fellowship history: After WW II, still in Europe in uniform, Ben helped liberate a Nazi work (death) camp. Carolyn Collier left Berkeley for Europe, to assist in relocating European refugees..
A local boy, Ben served in Europe during the war, as did older brother, Jim. Eldest brother, John, remained at home. His war effort was tending the family farm and business; also their mother. Ben described her, “A sweet little Presbyterian lady. I was her favorite, but I was the youngest.”
Ben dreamed of being a teacher, maybe influenced by his mother. She had taught in a 1-room school, toward Keno (now a private home). Their father wanted his sons to be businessmen. But, sometimes dreams come true. Stay tuned.
###–Barbara H. Turk, Archivist