Oral History Projects Reveal Depth of Community's Faith

By Sheryl Kippen
Originally published in the Greeley Tribune, April 17, 1999

During the fall of 1997 the Friends of the Greeley Museums with a grant from the Human Relations Commission, funded an oral history project which allowed us to peek into life today and yesteryear of individuals of different cultures – Swedish, Hispanic, German-Russian as well as a Union Colony Pioneer descendant.

No matter the culture or lifestyle, religious faith has been important to – and an invisible bond among – local residents. Church and Sunday School were important for all interviewed.

Florence Trevino, of the Hispanic culture whose childhood was spent partly in a migrant worker family, recalls that no matter where the family was staying and working, a Catholic church had to be found to attend, usually a Hispanic Catholic church recommended to them by their employer.

Union Colony Pioneer descendant Annie Glenn knows that religion was very important to the pioneers who started Greeley, and churches, or various denominations, were some of the first organizations in Greeley.

Glenn’s family attended the Methodist church, always in the same location but remodeled over the years.

German-Russian families, explains Bert Geisick, were very strict churchgoers. Adults in town attended prayer meetings Saturday and Wednesday and morning services as well as afternoon prayer sessions on Sundays. Even if there was no time for anything else during busy work times, church on Sunday could not be skipped.

Going to church for Helen Keyes’ Swedish-American family was a time for faith and socializing. Visiting with friends after church stretched late into the afternoon, where socializing would be continued at church members’ houses with dinner.

Sunday School was always a time to look your best. Keyes, who grew up southeast of Eaton, recalls keeping one’s best dress and shoes for church only. When these didn’t look quite as nice anymore, they would become the child’s school clothes for everyday. Having one good dress or outfit just for Sundays was mentioned by Geisick, who attended St. John’s Lutheran Church. For Glenn and her sisters, Easter and Christmas church services and programs were times to expect new homemade dresses to wear.

Families hold religious articles dear. The Geisick, Glenn, and keyes families each had family Bibles. Glenn’s Bible dates back to the 1830s and hold records of births and deaths, as well as important documents. These papers were given to children as they left home and got married or started lives on their own. Geisick’s Bible, today “in bits and pieces,” was used daily for family scripture readings.

Trevino and her daughter, Diana Trevino Arnold, still have an area of the house set aside for Trevino’s now-deceased mother’s Santos and crucifixes, very much treasured by the family.

Holidays blended faith, food and fun. People from each culture mentioned Christmas as a combination of church and family time with gift giving.

Geisick says there were always church programs as Christmas; Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by going to church, too. For the Trevinos, Christmas began after midnight mass, with opening gifts and a turkey and tamale dinner – all of it “pure joy,” says Trevino Arnold. Keyes’ family, too, attended midnight mass and celebrated Christmas with a large dinner with relatives and a visit from Santa Claus, who left a bag of gifts outside the door to their house.

Long travel time, if a family lived in the country, or fixing activities to a traveling minister’s unsteady schedule, made for more carefully planned group religious milestones in years gone by.

Keyes’ family, parents as well as children, were baptized and became church members on the same Sunday. Because of harvest’s busy time, German-Russian weddings were held in the winter. “No one would go to a wedding in the summer,” Geisick explained. There was just too much work to be done and no time for planning and socializing a wedding would bring. Perhaps used to the ways in Russia with a traveling minister who never visited in the winter, local German-Russian families would combine the confirmations several young people into one Sunday each year, almost always Easter.

The Trevinos remember weddings as long anticipated, almost circus-like times.

For local families – as Trevino Arnold said about her own family – “Religion was always there, an important part of life and very special.” It is fascinating to discover how alike we really all are, spanning cultures, generations and rural and city life, and what can be learned from really listening to people!