Passer Union Sunday School

As written by Carrie Frankenfield Horne in 1980...

Record books dating from 1851 to 1938 record meetings of a Sunday School called first Flint Hill Union Sunday School, then Fair Mount Union Sunday School, and finally Passer Union Sunday School.  Most of these record books are divided into two sections -- one part from Scholars names and attendance record and the other part a sort of summary of what was done and by whom, lesson title, a report of the weather conditions, and attendance summary.  There are often comments about the attendance, weather conditions, and sicknesses, as well as deaths of people in the neighborhood.  I have listed as a sort of appendix a list of some of the most interesting of these comments.

I have been unable to find any reference to the place of meeting in the beginning, but since later issues mention the school building, I assume they always met in the school building, even in the earliest days when the school was a log building which once stood at the southwest corner of what now is Passer Road and Richlandtown Pike.

At first the meetings were held in the morning and only from late April or May until September or early October.  This was done to avoid having to provide heat.  On April 5, 1875, the first afternoon sessions were started, but also held during the summer months.  However, in 1877, the records show an all-year Sunday school.  Someone was hired as a janitor to build a fire and warm up the room during the cold months.  This year, for the first time, there was a Christmas Festival.

Attendance varied from less than twenty to over a hundred.  People walked considerable distances to attend, especially those times when there was some special occasion like the day-long affair in the new school building in October, 1877.  On that day, two different preachers helped celebrate the "dedication'.  The annual Easter Festival, a Children's Day program, the Christmas Festival, and... the Summer Festival or Annual Picnic were all special occasions which I'll describe later.

The regular sessions opened by singing, reading of the Scriptures, and prayer.  In the beginning, these were all in German as were the lessons.  After the opening exercises, the teachers took over their classes.  One of the record books lists twelve classes varying in size from 12 to 3 or 4 pupils.  They must have had quite a time arranging for a little space for each class.  There were lesson books and, for beginners, a colored picture card with the lesson on the back.  Always the men sat on one side of the room and the women on the other, and the classes were divided in the same way.

For dismissal, the whole group joined in singing a song and the doxology.

In an 1888 record book, the following program is listed as a guide (I copied this just as it was written):
                Opening by Singing
                Prayer
                Singing
                Then teachers "practiced"
                Then address (by supt or a visitor)
                Singing
                Prayer
                Doxology

When the addition to the school house was built in 1902, the lower age classes met in the primary room, leaving the big room for the men's and women's Bible classes.  The Sunday school had acquired an organ which had been proudly dedicated.  I remember marching back into the big room from classes in the little room to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers" played by the organist.

I remember too how the big room looked when we had an evening affair with the kerosene lamps hanging in metal brackets suspended from the ceiling, sending out a warm glow.  It was especially lovely at Christmas time with all the decorations.  Sometimes there were thick ropes of cedar strung across the room.  In fact, all the decorations were of cedar, which at that time was our only native evergreen.  So, the odor of cedar permeated the room, adding to the magic of the evening.

Of course, everyone had a part in the Christmas Festival program.  There were recitations, dialogs, pantomimes, solos, duets, quartets, and a lot of singing by everyone.  All the children got a box of candy and maybe, in later years, an orange.  It was a big night for all of us, and people came from far and wide to attend.  I remember the building being so crowded that people even sat on window sills and stood all around the room.

The Easter Festival was usually held in the afternoon and well attended.  In a comment in the records for March 31, 1895, the secretary says, "The school was well attended by officers, teachers, and scholars.  Visitors were numerous because of the Easter Festival.  They all came to get eggs on Easter."  It was the custom to give everyone a candy egg at this time.

The annual picnic was another highlight of the Sunday school year.  The tables for eating, band platform, refreshment stand, and swings were all erected by the men and boys of the neighborhood during the evenings preceding big event.  Materials were stored in the school basement when not in use.

The refreshment stand was always a big attraction because they sold soft drinks, ice cream, watermelon, candy, and peanuts.  A report of picnic expenses in 1888 lists milk, vanilla, and sugar among the items, so in those days the ice cream must have been made at the picnic in borrowed, hand-cranked freezers.  However, by 1896, a record of picnic expenses lists ice cream (20 gallons), watermelons, and bananas as some of the items.  That ice cream was brought from Bethlehem in big, tall, wooden tubs -- well iced, of course.

Interesting, too, are the amounts paid to a band, which was considered to be essential for a picnic.  In going through the records, I found a variation of $7.15 to $20.

Light was supplied in the early days with a type of kerosene flare and kerosene lanterns.  Not too many of them either, so picnic dates were usually set near time for a full moon.  In later years, as the Sunday school prospered, they purchased a Delco Electric Light System and installed it in the basement of the school house.  That made the problem of lighting up the picnic grounds more simple.

All the women of the neighborhood brought their very best food for the picnic, and eating at the picnic was like one big Smorgasbord.

Games for the children were planned for the afternoon, and in the evening the young folks had their own special ring games which seemed favorites at all picnics where there was enough space.  There was often a hymn sing and, of course, a cake walk.

The Sunday School Picnic was a big event in the community.  Indeed, people came from far and wide to attend, usually walking, too.

According to the records, when the roads were too muddy or the weather very rainy, there was no Sunday school.  A bad snowstorm, too, called for cancellation of sessions.  In the early 1900's, Camp Meetings in the summer months were very popular.  They were small evangelistic crusades put on by a small church or a traveling preacher or evangelist.  Sometimes at these times, Sunday school was cancelled so officers, teachers, and scholars could attend.

How did a Union Sunday School, which is another way of saying non-denominational Sunday school, get started here at a time when the area was sparsely settled without even a post office?  In a beautiful tribute to Simon Frankenfield at the time of his death in April, 1888, he was called the "father and head of the Sunday school."  (The tribute was written by A.R. Trumbauer, who was the superintendent at the time, and placed in the record book.)  Simon had been a faithful and loyal superintendent of the School for 30 years, starting with the first year, so he really deserves credit for its beginning.  At first, there were just a few faithful members, but gradually there was a growth in membership until sometimes attendance records showed over a hundred present.

During the years there were many faithful officers.  Ira Frankenfield, Simon's grandson, served faithfully as superintendent and held that position when, because of dwindling membership and lack of interest, the Passer Union Sunday School disbanded.

Over the years, serving in various offices from president to librarian and janitor, the following names are prominent:  Frankenfield, Trumbower, Arnold, Bealer, Meyers, Stoneback, Schimmel, Moyer, Gross, Peffer, Kinding, Kneckle, Krueger, Seiple, Strawsnyder, Paff, Funk, Amey, Stover, Reichard, Koch, Knauss, Hammel, Ruth, Schick, Oppenlander, Mease, Fretz, Apple, Strock, Brinker, Foulke, Hoffman, Raub, Wambold, Haney, Sterner, Ebert, Giffert, Mindler, Sloyer, Reinhard.

The list reads almost like a history of the community.  As older residents died or moved away, others came in to take their place.  Many of the older families had several generations active in the Sunday school throughout the years.  It was a community affair that served to gather the members of a rather widely scattered neighborhood closer together in a Christian relationship of fellowship and friendship.

That is why as a third generation member, teacher, and officer, I wanted to write this story of Passer Union Sunday School.  What it meant to all of us and still does through lingering memories can best be expressed thus:

            "Blest be the tie that binds
            Our hearts in Christian love.
            The fellowship of kindred minds
            Are like to that above."

Comments