Church History

Every so often you see a name in the obituary column which opens the door to long ago stories. That happened late Monday when I noticed a headline about the death of a 104-year-old pastor’s wife. Thirty-five or 40 years ago I did some research on pastors and wives of long ago Evangelical United Brethren families who had served at the churches my family had attended. Most of that research came from family scrapbooks, of course. In the meantime, the EUB denomination had merged with the Methodists both nationally and in North Dakota. Then in the early 1990s the conferences of North and South Dakota merged which resulted in historians on both sides of the line knowing only the history in their own conference records. So along with others from both states I was recruited to help fill in some of the blanks. It would be fair to say that group became good friends, but not knowing each other’s history we often heard comments like “no one knows what happened to that family”. Quite often they had just taken a church in the neighboring state.

The 104-year-old lady had been born in Excelsior, Minn., as Marian Anderson with six brothers and sisters who all predeceased her. The family might have moved into Minneapolis because she graduated from Central High School there and went on to Northwestern College. The college, still existing, opened in 1902 with the seven original enrollees having classes in a Baptist Church. By the time Marian attended (possibly 1930s) it was known as Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training College. Her mission assignment was to Bethany Orphanage in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. True, there could have been lots of different missions in the Appalachian Mountains, but I grew up knowing about Red Bird Mission at Beverly, Kentucky, which is still in operation and had begun as a mission of the Evangelical Association in the early 1920s. A few miles away was a mission known as Henderson Settlement begun around 1925 by the Methodist Church. There was no information on whether she worked with one of those groups or some other denomination.

Northwestern Bible School sent out their students to teach Bible School in local churches in nine different states in the 1930s, and pastors in North and South Dakota were on their lists. During the day the children had classes. In the evening the pastors-in-training preached to the parents. The Evangelical Church tried the same procedure with students from North Central College and Seminary in Naperville, Illinois. My cousin, Sterling, training to be a pastor, attended both North Central and its Seminary during that era. As a result, in 1940 the Zion Bible School ten miles east of Langdon had a group of guest teachers and preachers either from the Elmer family or their classmates from Naperville. I was in either Ruth Elmer or Alma Hanneld’s class and met both ladies several times over the years. It was exciting to realize the missionaries we raised funds for were people we actually knew! Several members of the Elmer family would go on to live and work at Red Bird Mission. In later years Rev. Ardell Aleson and his wife, Tess, did volunteer work at that site and returned to Langdon to tell about the mission’s story. Gretta Lawson (later Buller), an LHS classmate of mine, was also a nurse at Red Bird before her marriage.

Now back to 104-year-old Marian who married a young pastor named Glen S. Gabel in 1944. Her obituary listed Langdon and Harvey Centre as the first churched they served, but there were no dates given so it took a trip to the clipping file to find “the rest of the story” and to fill readers in on Glen’s side of the story. Born in Canada in 1908, Glen Gabel was part of a large immigrant family who might have come from the Ukraine. His parents had settled at Sterling, Colorado, by 1910, and he grew up there and lived there until going to train for the ministry. There is a memory that my cousin, Sterling, also studying for the ministry, claimed to have known Glen “in school” although they listed attending schools in different states. By the 1940s both were pastors in North Dakota.

Glen and Marian served in Baptist, Methodist and possibly other churches in South Dakota and at Stewartville, Minn., before coming to Langdon in the spring of 1949. While here he continued his studies to obtain the necessary credits for ordination which took place at the 1952 annual conference in Fargo in May. While in our area he had also served the rural Harvey Center Church and for one year had served Clyde. Rev. Cannon, who had served at Hannah, had agreed to serve Clyde so the replacement for Rev. Gabel would be given Concrete as a third preaching point.

When the Gabel family came to Langdon they had two small children: a son, Daniel, and a daughter, Lois. When they left in 1952 to serve at Hope and Finley, they had two sons and two daughters. The second daughter, Dolores Peters, was a foster daughter who they raised. The second son, Stephen, was born while they lived in Langdon. A third son, Wesley, was born at Hankinson when the couple were serving Lidgerwood, Wyndmere and Forman. Their last North Dakota parish was at Lisbon and Milnor where they were stationed from 1959 to 1962.

In 1962 they moved back to a spot they had enjoyed early in their marriage: South Dakota. It appears they enjoyed Watertown where one son still lives. But first there was a long list of churches to work with in South Dakota. On a stormy day in the winter of 1971, Glen was driving a group to a conference on prayer when the roads were very bad. They got stuck. He jumped out to shovel and tried to push the car. A heart attack followed, he died, and was buried at Watertown. For the next seven years Marian served as a lay pastor at rural churches where her husband had served. Then, from her home in Watertown, she became a visitation minister for the Watertown church until partial retirement in 1986.

Moving to an apartment complex near her daughter in Minneapolis, she did lay speaking, taught Bible classes and prayer groups for several years moving after a few years to Rochester, MN, where she continued her personal ministry. Nearing 100 she moved to Indiana to be nearer her daughter, and this is where she spent the last years of her life.

At the time the Gabel family lived in Langdon and served the Methodist Church, which stood where the United Telelphone parking lot is today, our family was active in another church so I knew Rev. Gabel by sight and that he was a friend of my cousin, Sterling. However, I have no memory of meeting Mrs. Gabel in person during the time they lived in Langdon. What came to mind when reading her obituary is a memory of the first time I visited in Sterling, Colorado, more than 60 years ago. At that time I was traveling with a group called Youth Mission to Youth. When our group were asked to give our names and where we were from, I told them Langdon. Several people came up after the program and asked me if I knew Glen Gabel! Reading his obituary from the clipping file today I found it listed him as one of 11 or 12 children, several of whom still lived in the Sterling area at the time. Some of my cousins who now live in Sterling, Colorado, have also met descendants of that original large Gabel family.

Church ties can be very special, so researching this bit of local history was a good opportunity to remember long ago times.


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