by Rachel Hunter
Ruth Vandoorne, 89, of Farmington Hills, Mich. and daughter Glynis Ash of Clinton, N.Y. arrived to the annual Richville Welsh Society service on Aug. 28 with a story to tell.
“I never knew my grandfather; he died before I was born but he was D. L. Williams (David Lewis),” Mrs. Vandoorne said. “He was a pastor here from 1908 to 1915. Even though I never knew him, I heard many stories about Richville. As a child, we came here to visit and spent time at the old farm. My uncle Sam married Mable O’Bradford, if that means anything to any of you, and saw the different spots.
“Two years ago, when we first came here, I came with my daughter Glynis (a nice Welsh name). Doris Putman and her daughter Sue were nice enough to take us around and show us where my mother went to school, the path she walked, and the different points of interest for her.
“It was interesting to see where my grandfather had come from. My grandmother was of Welsh descent from Rome, N.Y. and it was her parents who came from Wales but Dave came from Wales when he was 13 years old. All my life I have heard stories about Wales, and it has just become part of my heritage that I am very proud of.
“My mother was four years old when they first came here. She had three older brothers and a younger one, and an older sister who died at the young age of 18 when she was here.
“My mother was the scamp of the group because she had to sit in the front row where D.L. could keep an eye on her. Other than that, I really can’t tell you much about her except that it was always dear to my heart and dear to my mother’s heart. She felt very fond the area and passed that along to me. I have enjoyed being here, seeing what is going on with people in the area and I am glad that Glynis is here with me.”
The 44 people who gathered at the Richville Welsh Society white church building for the annual service thanked Mrs. Vandoorne with a loud applause, and a verbal thanks from Welsh Society President Sandy Wyman.
President Wyman gave the following greeting: “It doesn’t seem like a year, since we were all here together. Time really flies. This is where we of Welsh descent and hopefully our guests draw spiritual comfort plus the feeling from continuity having a simple, beautiful place to worship – to remember Wales, celebrate their lives, to cherish memories of those gone home, to draw we the faithful together in peace and harmony.”
President Wyman also took a moment to express gratitude to Laura Conklin of Gouverneur who has been the society’s songstress for the past three years.
“She is no longer able to be with us, and I sent her a nice thank you note. We are going to have a new songstress that’s well known in Richville – Rachel Riley, who has graciously consented, and of course Beth Johnson who we couldn’t do without.”
President Wyman then gave the following announcements: “Things have changed. We are going to have a wonderful reception at the Richville Fire Hall today in their community room. It’s all in one floor and easy for everyone to access.
“I want to thank the Richville Historical Society for providing our refreshments as always, and to the Richville Fire Department for no charge. It’s nice to know people. We are about start our service, and we are completely blessed with this.”
President Wyman then gave the Call to Worship responsively from all those gathered: Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Praise be the Lord with the Lyre, make melody to him with harp of ten strings. Sing to him a new song, play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. Let the whole wrath Praise the Lord.
“Faith of our Fathers” was sung by songstress Rachel Riley along with the Rev. Ford Reynolds, accompanied by organist Beth Johnson.
President Wyman then offered: “Almighty God, we come to you this afternoon remembering our ancestors who came before us. We remember their faithfulness to you in their new country. We rejoice in our heritage, not only in our heritage as being heirs to the tradition of Wales, but heirs to your everlasting kingdom. Be with us today and make this service a meaningful and joyous experience. All this we asked in the name of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray: Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
The offering was taken by Joe Laurenza with the offering solo, “In the Garden” provided by the Rev. Ford Reynolds. Hymns were sung, and the scripture was read by the Rev. Richard Moore. The Welsh National Anthem was then sung in English.
Guest Speaker Judith Sibley opened her talk with “The Meaning of Faith” as described in Hebrews 11:1-16, which states in part: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
“Each time we gather in this little church, the spirit of those who have gone before us is strong; they surround us like a great cloud of witnesses. We cannot fail to remember the faith they had as they set out from their own homes in Wales to sail across the ocean to this foreign land. Some did not survive the journey; yet if one in a family made it, he or she hopefully brought forth descendants in this new land. If any from a community serviced the voyage, they were as seeds in their new community of Richville.
“Their faith assured them entrance to a better community, in heaven; yet they obviously made the very best of this earthly community of Richville. The strength and backbone and heart the Welsh settlers brought to this community is evident to this day.
“I arrived in Richville as a stranger myself, when my husband and I moved from downstate in November 2007. I didn’t remain a stranger long, as I went to the library and met people and was invited to join the Historical Association. Naturally, I was very interested in this little church on the hill for as you approach Richville from the south, it brings to mind Psalm 121: “I lift mine eyes to the hill, from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”
“I was disappointed to learn that it was only open once a year, but when I learned a bit of the history, I became grateful that it still exists and is open once a year. I read in Doris Putman’s notes as published in “Rich’s Settlement to Richville” that the Welsh congregational church was built in 1859. It closed in 1919 and that could have been the end of it. Then Webster Griffith, grandson of the builder, began renovations in 1925. His daughter left $400 in trust for the Welsh Church. So we see the thread of descendants keeping the church from ruin.
“The thread continued when the state plan for Route 11 included demolishing the church, listed in their rolls as abandoned. The state soon learned that Richville and local Welsh descendants had not abandoned this symbol of their heritage. The Welsh Society was formed and the Griffith money used to halt the state’s plans and spare the church.
“So I had this historical background before I came to my first service here. More importantly, I had the assurance of my new friends in Richville that everyone was welcome. I felt very welcome and was warmly greeted when I entered. I knew some of the people attending, and those I didn’t know spoke to me too. I loved being here, to see the interior of this simple church and to worship with the community and with the great cloud of witnesses who worshipped here before. I’ve attended this service just about every year since.
“Yet when Sandy (Wyman) called me to ask if I would be the speaker this year, I felt totally unqualified. She explained that I didn’t need to be Welsh and that scholarship and research were not necessary; just a sense of community was desired. She explained that the scheduled speaker had moved away and couldn’t be here, and since my calling these days is to “fil in” where needed, I agreed.
“In June, I “filled in” for the Gouverneur Methodist pastor at a graveside service for Margaret Reynolds Clark, so I connected with the Welsh at that time. I learned about Margaret’s father coming from Wales and farming here. I learned of Margaret and her siblings growing up on the farm and going to a country school and about Margaret graduating from Potsdam and then teaching in country schools for a time. And in my conversations with Margaret’s relatives I learned more about these very faithful, hardworking people and their solid values.
“I also learned about the Welsh in a book…
All of a sudden, the open window in the front of the congregation came crashing down. This caused much laughter, and all seemed to agree that the “great cloud of witnesses” were indeed there with them during the service.
Mrs. Sibley then continued her speech as follows:
“I also learned about the Welsh in a book I just happened to be reading when Sandy (Wyman) called to invite me to speak. I go around to used book sales at various libraries and stack them up at home. In my stack was a historical novel, titled “The Road to Sixty” by Howard Thomas. The cover said “A story about Upstate New York Welsh-Americans.” Since this book was right on the table beside me when Sandy called, it seems that I was meant to speak here this year.
“The author’s Welsh ancestors settle in the Steuben Hills in the early 1800s. The story takes place in the Remsen and Steuben area in the mid-1800s, just around the time the Welsh population here in Richville grew. It told of one family and of the various Protestant dominations in the Welsh chapels of the area. I also read in an online source (WelshRootsWeb) that by 1872 the Remsen and Steuben area had 3,000 Welsh and 20 Welsh churches. The Welsh built small churches on hills near their homes.
“I was led to an earlier book by Howard Thomas, entitled “The Singing Hills” which told a great deal about Welsh customs. Tucked into the front cover of the copy I bought online is a letter from the author written in 1967 and telling of renovations and restorations to a chapel in the Steuben area, so similar to Richville.
“The hero of this book is a young orphan who is just passing through Remsen, but is taken under the wing of the Welsh settlers. He is told, as are all newcomers, to go to the Stone House. “You will receive help and information there.” Just like newcomers in Richville were directed to the stone house, which still stands of the Welsh Road today! The orphan in the story remains with these caring yet strict people. He reflects on his experience at the Stone House that it was not the furniture or food or other physical comforts, but the people who were going out of their way to help him. The owner of the house was Evan Jones, but they called him Evan Stone House because every second Welshman in Remsen was named Jones, as there wasn’t much variety in Welsh names.
“The author describes Welsh customs and traditions, including a wedding and funeral and Welsh worship services with heartfelt preaching and enthusiastic hymn singing so that the very hymns seemed to sing!
“Evan Stone House reflected about the conflict between traditional Welsh customs and a desire to assimilate: “When people come to live in a new land, they must let their minds turn backward. We have loved Wales and we shall always love it. We have loved it for its beauty and for the dear ones we left behind, knowing we probably would never see the old country or the people again. But we can’t forget the poverty pressed upon us by our landlords. If it is poor a Welshman is in his native land, he is not entirely at fault; but one who has adopted American for his home has only himself to blame if he fails. Here lies the most wonderful opportunity ever set before man. Here the air is free and it is every man who can be a lord, if he is willing to work.”
“By the early 1900s, attendance at the Welsh churches in the Steuben area declined, and many closed, as happened to the church here in Richville. Yet the values of those early settlers is still apparent.
“Sandy Wyman stresses the importance of faith, heritage and community. All three are evident right here today. The faith of those who traveled here from Wales so long ago; the faith of their descendants who keep this church alive; the heritage in the restoration of the interior and in the singing of the Welsh; use of the Welsh language in our worship bulletins; and the sense of community we all experience when we join together in worship.
“I will leave you will Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.”
“Abide with Me” was then sung, and the Rev. Ford Reynolds gave the benediction. The service was adjourned to the Richville Fire Department Hall for refreshments.
The society’s annual picture was taken in front of the Welsh church, and then the executive board of the Welsh Society held their annual meeting. At it, Doris Putman resigned from her position as treasurer after countless years of dedicated service. It was then decided by the board to combine the secretary and treasurer position. Susan Cartwright is now the secretary/treasurer. The board also consists of President Sandy Wyman, First Vice President Ford Reynolds, and Second Vice President Richard Moore.
Next year, the annual service of the Richville Welsh Society will be held at the white church on Sunday, August 27 at 1 p.m. Mark your calendars today! The guest speaker will be Karen Taylor of Richville.
by Rachel Hunter