Pauline Kohler Celebrates A Century



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1908 - 2010

Pauline L. Kohler


BONNE TERRE — Pauline L. Kohler died gracefully - as she had lived - on October 19, 2010. The daughter of George and Frieda Lenz, she was 102 years old.

An energetic woman, she was an avid gardener, a world traveler and a voracious reader. She graduated from Mineral Area College at 84 and drove her own car until she was 99.

She was a loving woman, devoted to her four children and their families, and she adored her husband, Theodore Nicholas Kohler, who preceded her in death. Her sisters, Helen Hermann (d) and Ruth Meyer, were her close companions throughout her life.

She was an honest and ethical woman who never lied - not once. She criticized only on the rarest occasion, so when she did, people paid attention. She had only good things to say about others.

A woman of personal faith, she worked tirelessly for tiny St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bonne Terre, Mo, where she was senior warden. On many Sundays, she would be the only person in attendance. No matter, she conducted the worship service in its entirety.

Her family, friends and a wide circle of admirers will miss her presence, acutely aware that there is less goodness in the world with her passing. She would tell us that we should continue to learn enthusiastically, experience widely and enjoy fully.

Visitation will be Friday, October 22, 2010 at 10 a.m. at the St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bonne Terre. Service will be Friday at 11 a.m. at the St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Burial will be at 2 p.m. on Friday at Oak Hill Cemetery in Kirkwood, Mo. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Bonne Terre Ministerial Alliance will be gratefully accepted. Arrangements are under the direction of C. Z. Boyer & Son Funeral Home in Bonne Terre.    

Published Thursday, October, 21, 2010, St. Francois County Daily Journal.


Kohler Celebrates A Century

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Pauline Kohler is surrounded by her sons as she celebrates her 100th birthday Saturday at St. Joe Manor. “Don’t let the big numbers scare you,” says Mrs. Kohler. “Even at 100, you do it one day at a time.” Clockwise from left are her sons Mike, Pete and Steve. Her daughter Julie was unable to attend the celebration that included members of the Episcopal Church and the Bonne Terre Garden Club. Mrs. Kohler was born Jan. 26, 1908 and has lived in Bonne Terre for 30 years.

By DonnaHickman/DailyJournal Staff Writer
St. Francois County, Missouri,
January 28, 2008

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Celebrating a life of faith and witness
January 26, 2005

BONNE TERRE - The Sunday crowd at St. Peter's Episcopal Church is usually small. Sometimes there are six people for worship. Sometimes there is only one. And it is because of that 'one', the church has reason to celebrate.

Pauline Kohler turns 97 years old today. Since 1974, she has been the church's warden - a sort of caretaker whose job it is to open the church doors and conduct the service each week - even if she is the only one there.

"Oh, if it's just me, I still lead the service from beginning to end because that's what I'm supposed to do," she explained.

Last Sunday, she came an hour early and found the organist and priest already there. Slowly, others began to arrive, including her sons.

"I didn't really associate it with my birthday until my son brought the flowers," she explained. "I didn't know a thing about it."

The organist played. The service began and The Rev. Catherine Hillquist, vicar of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Ironton, offered an explanation.

"We are here to praise and worship God, but we are also here today to celebrate a birthday," she said. "And Pauline, the best gift we could offer was to fill your church."

Sure enough, there were 35 people filling almost every pew in the tiny church. Mrs. Kohler, wearing a corsage of roses and daisies, was seated between two of her sons. The smile on her face was broad.

She stood up, clutching her well-worn prayer book and said, "It's dawning on me now what's happening. If you have never been to a surprise party before, you have been to one now."

Hillquist delivered a sermon written by Father Nathaniel Pyron, who has served communion at the little church one Sunday each month for the last two years. He had planned the surprise service for Mrs. Kohler, but was too ill to attend. So, Hillquist read his words.

"Why did Jesus choose Peter, Andrew, James and John to be his disciples?" she asked. "He saw in them a determination - true grit - that when channeled would not quit. Why did God call Pauline Kohler to St. Peter's Church in Bonne Terre? God knew she had that true grit."

Among the guests who came to celebrate Sunday was Jim McGregor, who grew up in Bonne Terre and represented Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis.

"It's Pauline's unconditional faith that keeps her going," he said. "It's like she has an understanding, a calmness about her religion. She believes it and she lives it."

In prayer, they thanked God for her faithfulness and witness to her love of Christ.

"This is a holy place and through you, God keeps it holy," said Hillquist. Then she added, "Every Sunday, sometimes with only God and the company of heaven here with her, she leads the service as if 400 were here."

Sunday worship isn't the only way Mrs. Kohler serves her church. She sends out a church newsletter called, "The Fisherman." She represents St. Peter's as a member of the Bonne Terre Ministerial Alliance. She lights the luminaria out front for the Christmas parade.

"It's her mission to make people know St. Peter's is still here," said Sheryl Rowden, a church member. "Her motto is the red door will be open every Sunday and if she can't do it, she sees that it gets done."

Her resolve to keep the church going is true to her character, according to her son. Mike Kohler said when his family lived in St. Louis, his mother decided to do some volunteer work.

"So she went to the state hospital on Arsenal and told them she wanted to teach dance to the people who were locked up," he said. "And so, she did - every week for I don't know how long. My great fear was no one would let her out when she was done."

And he said his mother can't take "no" for an answer. When she was pregnant with his youngest brother, Mike said she refused to order dinner while they were dining out telling the waiter, "No, I'm going to have a baby tonight." When she told her doctor that, he told her it wasn't time. But before the night was over, Mike said she did indeed give birth - 15 years to the day after she had had Mike, she gave birth to her son Peter. She also has a daughter, Julie.

Friends and family surrounded Mrs. Kohler after the worship service to swap stories about her. Tiny in stature, but a giant in her faith, she posed for pictures in front of the flower-covered altar with friends like 98-year-old Gussie Freehan of St. Louis.

They sang "Happy Birthday" and at one point, Mrs. Kohler turned to the group and said, "Oh, I do thank every one of you."

St. Peter's was built in 1908, the same year Mrs. Kohler was born.

"It must keep going," she said. "Too many women worked too hard to get it to 2005. The church was built by women who raised money through teas and quilts. We have no kitchen, no meeting hall, but it's a wonderful church - people is the only thing we need."

At 4 p.m. on the fourth Sunday of each month, a priest comes to lead the service. But every other Sunday of the month, it is Mrs. Kohler who opens the doors and leads worship at 10 a.m.

"This church is everything to her," said Rowden. "She will probably ask me to make certain it keeps going if anything ever happens to her, but I don't think it will!"

By D. Hickman/DailyJournal Staff Writer

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St. Peter's Church closes in Bonne Terre
Sept. 4, 2007

It has stood as a beacon of faith in the heart of Bonne Terre for almost 100 years. Now, the lights have dimmed at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The services have ended.

“It’s a tender situation,” explained Sandra Coburn, Communications Director for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. “Everything is on hold for now and we have no plans.”

The little church on Southwest Main Street had five members when it was built in 1908 — all women. It still lists its membership as five. There were services every Sunday and a priest from Ironton served communion one Sunday each month. Church member Pauline Kohler served as warden for the church, opening it every week and conducting services. Often she would be the only one in worship, a fact noted when Mrs. Kohler celebrated her 97th birthday there in 2005.

“Why did Jesus choose Peter, Andrew, James and John to be his disciples?” asked The Rev. Catherine Hillquist at that celebration on Jan. 25, 2005. “He saw in them a determination — true grit — that when channeled would not quit. Why did God call Pauline Kohler to St. Peter’s Church in Bonne Terre? God knew she had that true grit.”

During a service held in May, Mrs. Kohler fell and gave up her role as church caretaker.  She — and the church — will be 100 in January.

“I’m not ill, but I’ve taken to falling, so I just cannot do it anymore,” she explained. “My husband, Ted, was always active in the church when he was alive. I took over some of those duties after his death.”

She said she would like to see the building continue as a church, even if not for an Episcopal congregation.

Coburn said what the church needs is community support to keep the bright red doors opened.

According to a history of the church written by its treasurer, Emily dePuystar Conover, in 1912, St. Peter’s began as a mission in March of 1908.  She wrote of how Archdeacon W.M. Walton came to Bonne Terre and found little support from the people, but Conover wrote to him to come back and try again.  They began meeting together for worship — all the members were women. Later that year, St. Joe Lead President Dwight Jones gave the church a lot and building on Main Street valued at $1,500. He also gave them a check for $100. To raise money for a new church, they made quilt tops and sold them for as much as $50.

The congregation met in the building until it built the church in front of the old structure in 1910. Mrs. Conover described it as 18 by 38 feet with white walls and ceiling with a roof in a gothic style and woodwork finished in cherry stain.

The building cost $1,500 to build.

“The work of about six faithful women,” wrote Mrs. Conover. “We certainly were guided by One that knew our road was going to be hard to travel, for we met success on every hand, so it seemed and now we have 10 communicants and a strong guild. We need to work awfully hard and still we are doing nicely and everything looks bright for the future of St. Peter’s.”

Mrs. Kohler has been attending the church since 1970.

“We never had a crowd,” she explained. “For years, people who came were associated with St. Joe Lead. We had a great fluctuation in attendance, but we were open every Sunday.”

Those who attended the church for a time may have moved away, but Mrs. Kohler said they often continued to send money for its upkeep.

Surrounded by homes that aren’t nearly as old as it is, the church looks a little out of place on the wide residential street in the heart of the city. Kohler said on the Sundays she had company for worship, it was usually Sheryl Rowden who joined her. Rowden has attended for more than 20 years. She said when its red door was open, people would often stop in the church to say they’d always wanted to take a peek inside.

“I can remember my daughter crawling through the railings of the altar as a toddler,” she said fondly. “This church was comfortable for me and it met my spiritual needs.”

She said the Diocese will remove the pews, organ and other items inside the church, including a cross and candlesticks engraved with the Jakobe and Conover names — two families who figure prominently in the city’s history.

“I think it would be wonderful if someone would keep it alive as a wedding chapel,’ Rowden said, “but for now, the Diocese has said they’re open to suggestions.”

She invites anyone interested in the church to call her at 573-358-2835.

She said arrangements have been made to provide lawn care for the property.

“We worked very hard to keep the church a credit to the neighborhood,” said Mrs. Kohler.

Rowden believes she was blessed to have been partners in faith with Mrs. Kohler over the years.

“If it hadn’t been for Pauline, the church would have closed many years before now,” she said.

By D. Hickman/DailyJournal Staff Writer

Pauline Kohler passed away October 19, 2010, at St. Joe Manor in Bonne Terre, MO.  On October 22, 2010, she made her final visit to her beloved St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Bonne Terre. 

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