Worshipping in Woodbury

Evelyn Garbe and Orma Strom, two long-serving members of local churches, share their memories.
Evelyn Garbe, left, and Orma Strom

More than its steeple and stained glass windows, a church is its people. Though a physical space in which to gather and worship is important, a congregation is the real heart and soul of a faith community. Woodbury has long been home to many different places of worship, including a few that have been around nearly as long as the town itself has been in existence. Salem Lutheran, founded in 1863, and Woodbury Peaceful Grove United Methodist, founded in 1853, are two such churches—both have long histories of worshiping in and serving our city. We spoke with their longest-serving members about their involvement in their churches and their memories of Woodbury over the years.

Orma Strom
At 89, Orma Strom is among the oldest members of Salem Lutheran Church—and she is definitely the longest-serving—but at one point, she was the very youngest and newest. She has been faithfully attending Salem Lutheran ever since she was a baby, as her parents and grandparents were members. “I grew up in the church,” Orma says, noting that some of the most memorable occasions of her life took place inside of Salem Lutheran’s four walls.

Among Orma’ s earliest church memories is the catechism class she took as a teenager prior to her confirmation in 1942. “I used to have to walk three miles both ways to get there,” she remembers. “But if the weather was really bad, then thankfully they would take us.”
When Orma married her husband, Waldon, in 1957, the ceremony was held at Salem Lutheran. Soon after, Waldon became an active member as well. “I think he joined the church one Sunday, and by the next, he had an office position already,” Orma laughs.

The Stroms continued to stay engaged at Salem Lutheran over the years. When the congregation sought to build a new church, Waldon became building fund treasurer; they later donated money for a new stained glass window in memory of their parents and one of their sons, who had passed away. Orma taught Sunday school each week and served as the program’s superintendent for two years, but she says that Salem Lutheran’s Ladies Aid group was probably her biggest commitment. “We served at funerals and sometimes at weddings, and I’d always help out with whatever was needed.”  

When the Stroms had children, they brought them up in the church as well. Their daughter and four sons were all baptized and confirmed at Salem Lutheran, just like Orma herself was. “Two of them even got married there,” she says. She and Waldon are still members today, and while Orma says that the mobility issues that so often accompany growing older have made it tough for them to keep going weekly, Pastor Jonathan Hackbarth makes monthly visits to Woodbury Senior Living Estates, which they now call home.

Above all, Orma is grateful for the church community she has been a part of all her life, despite the ups and occasional downs. “I know at different times, there were problems in the church, and somebody would say, ‘Why don’t you leave?’ and I’d say, ‘It [doesn’t] make any difference where you go, there will always be some arguing.’ The church was just three miles from our house—what should we run all over town for? And so we’ve always stayed.”

Evelyn Garbe
Evelyn Garbe has been a Woodbury resident all her life. Now 102, she has seen the town grow from a small farming community to the bustling suburb it is today. Throughout that time, she has been an active member of Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church on Steepleview Road, formerly known as Woodbury United Methodist Church before its merger with Peaceful Grove. As a baby, Evelyn was baptized at home by Woodbury United Methodist Church’s pastors—a tradition at the time—and grew up attending church with her family. Evelyn later met her husband, Paul, at church.

“At that time, everything was church,” Evelyn’s daughter, Jean Brown, says. “Church and 4H—they were primarily people’s social lives.” Evelyn and Paul were active members of their local 4H group, which they went on to lead together, and their church as well. “Really about anything that needed to be done at the church, she would do,” Jean says of her mother. “She served lunches at the funerals, washed the windows at church, did a lot with the gardening. She was an active lady.”

The church long benefitted from Evelyn’s musical talents, which she contributed to weekly worship services and the Sunday school program. “We would get together in what was called the annex and sing songs before Sunday school class, and she [Evelyn] would play the piano before the kids would be excused to their classrooms,” Jean says, and she later followed in her mother’s footsteps as well. Evelyn also taught Sunday school classes, held various office positions and was a member of the Ladies Aid group. “We supported Emma Norton Residence for girls without homes and organized rummage sales to raise funds for the church,” Evelyn says.

Evelyn still stays engaged in her faith today. Though she isn’t able to make it to Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church on Sundays—“I don’t transport very easily,” she jokes—she never misses church at Woodbury Senior Living, where she now resides. She treasures her memories of life in Woodbury throughout the years, and Peaceful Grove has been an integral part of it. “It’s been a very blessed life,” she says.