CONNER - Four miles south of Darby on U.S. Highway 93 is the newly remodeled Conner Wesleyan Church, where the congregation is having a dedication and open house service Sunday.
Events for the day begin at 11 a.m. with a morning worship and a potluck dinner. At 2 p.m. is the dedication service, with District Superintendent Reverend Issac Smith officiating. Finally, from 3:30 p.m. until 6 p.m. they will have an open house.
Member Rhonda Loose encourages the community to come see the remodel.
“On Sunday we are dedicating the building to the Lord,” said Loose. “Then we’re having an open house - we want the community to see what we’ve done to our wonderful little church. So many people have stopped by and were wondering what we were doing when we began to tear the building apart.
“I was proud in that we reused or recycled over 50 percent of those materials. We have a couple of the stained glass windows now hanging inside the church – they are a part of the church heritage. We didn’t have to send a lot to the landfill.”
In 1942, South Valley residents began meeting in a tarpaper shack and launched the Conner Mission. In 1944, they organized a congregation with membership in the Dakota Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Charter members were the Rev. John Hunter and his wife Amy; Emma Motley; Eldon, Wilma and Ilene Wetmore; and Walter and Vivian Shook parents of Emma Hardwood, Juanita Maki, Audry Rader, Bonnie Peterson and Grant Shook.
“What’s fascinating is that most of these children are now adult members of the church, having returned to the area,” said Loose.
The first building project was on donated land with a lumber camp building moved from Rye Creek Road and a warehouse moved from Darby for use as a parsonage. Materials were still difficult to obtain because of the war, but the building was completed in 1946.
In 1950, the Reverend Alvin House and his family moved to Conner and took over the work.
Other pastors included the reverends Benjamin Joachim, Clark Riesland, John Hunter, Burl Baty, Lester Bennett, Jack Trouten, Clyde Graham, Thomas McCall, Paul Turner and Dwight Peterson.
In 1994, the Conner Wesleyan Church held a three-day celebration for their 50th anniversary.
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A survey conducted later that year determined that the church and parsonage were not on church property but the owners, Gerald and Judith McKenzie, donated the land making it legal.
The members of the church did build a new parsonage and a pole building.
In 2013, the church celebrated their 70th anniversary with a “The Way It Was” weekend full of reminiscing and finalizing the plans for construction in 2014.
The newly remodeled church still uses the some of the same foundation poured 70 years before.
The current pastor, Dwight Peterson, had relatives in the area and visited Conner as a boy. His wife Bonnie (Shook) Peterson grew up attending Conner Wesleyan Church - a daughter of the church founding members.
“I find it interesting that my father (Walter Shook) was one of the men who pulled the lumber camp building down the mountain and four of his children are members here,” said Bonnie.
“We have a rich history and the heritage continues. I think it’s neat the influence that our church has had in the community and we hope in continues in a very positive way.
“We like to make sure people feel welcome to come and see the facility. We have out of town guest coming - past members.
“[The Conner Wesleyan Church] has deep roots in the lower part of the Bitterroot Valley – and our faith holds us together through time.”
“The open house is a way to reach out and let them know we have a wonderful new facility – not just for church use but also AA, the garden club and other community events are held here,” said Loose.
For additional information and directions, contact Pastor Dwight or Bonnie Peterson at 821-3570.