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Randy's Ramblings: Clergy wielded influence in Hudson of yesteryear

The recent relocation of the Star-Observer news office forced me into a job I try to avoid like a dog shuns a bath: house-cleaning. Or in this case, office-cleaning.

The effort proved worthwhile, however. Tossing record files I once thought were important for some reason had a cleansing effect.

And it forced me to deal with a gem.

Some years ago, I was writing a story involving the Hudson Area Ministerial Association and needed background information. Willis Miller, the late Star-Observer publisher, suggested that I talk to the Rev. Merlin Bradley, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Hudson from 1978 to 1994. Bradley is a student of local history, as was my late colleague and friend.

I don't recall the details of my visit with Pastor Bradley, but I remember him walking into the office some days later with a blue plastic box containing three small three-ring binders of minutes of ministerial association meetings. At the bottom of the box were files of more meeting minutes and other association papers.

Bradley admired Willis, and by association, believed the newspaper office would be a good place for the historical records. He didn't think the minutes belonged with any one church, since the association is comprised of most of Hudson's churches, and the cast of leaders changes constantly.

Willis and the Star-Observer had quite of library of books and other materials documenting Hudson's history.

The blue box found its way onto a shelf of my computer desk. I planned to examine the contents, but didn't take the time to do it until the move forced me into action.

We've found what I believe will be a good, permanent home for the association records -- the History Room at the Hudson Area Library.

I've talked with Library Director Linda Donaldson and Nancy Hawkinson, the volunteer History Room librarian. They've assured me that the materials will be properly catalogued, preserved, and made available to researchers in perpetuity -- or a very long time at least.

The minutes begin with a Nov. 6, 1944, meeting at the home of the Methodist minister and president of the association, the Rev. George T. Agema. The most recent minutes I've found are for a Dec. 2, 1985, meeting at First Presbyterian Church.

What's striking about the few meeting minutes I've perused is the amount of clout in the community the clergy had. The minutes also reflect the issues of the day.

On May 7, 1945, in a meeting at the home of Dr. Ernest W. Wright, pastor of First Presbyterian, the ministers discussed the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "especially in regard to the stores closing in the afternoon without conferring with the churches."

If my interpretation is correct, the pastors weren't Roosevelt Democrats and didn't appreciate the public grieving for the dead president.

A discussion of VE Day services followed, according to the minutes submitted by the Rev. G. Daniel Wood, the ministerial association's secretary and pastor at First Baptist Church.

Wood also reported that the pastors discussed "the responsibility of Germany in the war and the Germans as a race."

Brother Almen then wanted to know what could be done about the youngsters going into taverns and bars to get a Coke.

Wood, being a Baptist, referred to fellow clergymen as brothers. Almen was the Rev. Carl O. Almen, pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, then located on Fourth Street near what is now Willow River Elementary School (then the high school).

The association voted to have Rev. Almen pay a visit to the City Council and urge the members to enforce the city's law regarding minors in taverns.

Brother Wood didn't name the ministers in attendance, but a listing of Hudson churches at the front of binder included the Baptist church, Mission Covenant, St. Paul's Episcopal, Bethel Lutheran, Trinity Lutheran, Zion Lutheran, the Methodist church, the Presbyterian church and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church.

Young people and taverns appear to have been a recurring concern of the ministerial association.

"The question of minors in the tavern" was revisited at a May 4, 1946, meeting.

The pastors agreed that tavern windows shouldn't be concealed, but should allow a view of the interior from the sidewalk, and that restaurants should be separated from the bars. The group voted to press the City Council to adopt an ordinance to that effect.

The association wasn't afraid of exerting its ecclesiastical influence. Then Hudson High School Principal Edward P. Rock was called in to discuss "the problem of religious education in connection with public schools."

The Hudson Commercial Club was taken to task for some of its members not observing the noon to 3 p.m. store closing on Good Friday.

Sometimes, questions of propriety were decided. At a Nov. 9, 1964, meeting, the pastors debated whether it was appropriate for them to participate in a donkey basketball game.

"The question was raised as to whether or not this was a role that the minister of the community should find himself in," the Rev. Arthur Kuehn, pastor of First Baptist, reported. "It was felt that this was not. This was not just the position of those in attendance, but some of the pastors had discussed it with their parishioners, and they felt the same way."

There's no mention of Jesus' ride on a donkey.

The minutes hint that, by then, the influence of the association was on the wane.

"Discussion of the involvement of the pastors in the donkey basketball event led to the discussion of general response or lack of response to the clergy on the part of the people of Hudson," Rev. Kuehn reported.

I plan to deliver the ministerial association records to the library this week. I'm sure it will take the staff some time to process them.

Once they're available for public viewing, any historian -- amateur or professional -- will find them fascinating.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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