Out of the ashes: Windom's ALC to dedicate facility Sunday

WINDOM -- As Karen Skarphol began to give a visitor a tour of the revitalized American Lutheran Church in Windom, it quickly became evident that it isn't just a place where she comes to work.

WINDOM -- As Karen Skarphol began to give a visitor a tour of the revitalized American Lutheran Church in Windom, it quickly became evident that it isn't just a place where she comes to work.

It's her workplace, but it's also her church and a place that's near and dear to her heart.

"It's our home away from home," she emphasized.

Karen and her husband, Jim, are the custodians at American Lutheran Church, and they have proudly maintained the facility for more than 22 years. When the Skarphols received a call in the early morning hours of Jan. 4, 2006, asking them to come and open up the church because there was a fire, it was something they could hardly comprehend.

"I couldn't envision a fire at this place," Karen recalled. "The first door I unlocked, it was so dark with smoke inside that they told me to leave it shut. The second door was too hot to open, and the same with the third door. ... Then finally the firemen were able to get inside and just started spraying everything with their hoses."


The fire smoldered in the roof, and it took firefighters from area departments eight hours to completely extinguish the blaze. The remains of the church were filled with water, smoke and soot.

"Everything was so black," Karen described. "Where do you begin? ... You would open things, and it was all full of soot. There was no place it didn't spread. You'd think, 'How did it get in here?' but it was everywhere."

More than a year later, the only evidence of the fire that remains is a visible soot line along the roof on the outside, where the flames searched for more oxygen. Inside, the facility is like brand-new. What didn't have to be rebuilt or replaced has been scrubbed, painted and polished.

The ensuing renovation allowed the congregation to make some much-needed improvements, such as moving the church offices to the main floor, where they are more accessible to visitors, improving the location and functions of storage areas and, of course, installing a sprinkler system throughout.

But a concerted effort was also made to retain the church's character. For instance, the stained glass windows were restored, and in many instances re-created, by a firm in Iowa. The resulting windows are identical to what was there before, but are now much more vivid.

Six small windows that were located above the chancel were burned beyond recognition -- totally black and unsalvageable. Since there were no pictures of those windows, the company managed to replace them based solely upon descriptions supplied by church staff and members.

"They did a magnificent job," Karen credited. "They look exactly as they did before the fire, except brighter ... and those smaller windows might have a little more purple in them than they did before."

The renovations continued through just about every nook and cranny of the building, allowing for major improvements throughout, including an expanded library; new sacristy with designated storage for the paraments; a banner room with fixtures designed specially to house each season's decorations; a much more functional kitchen area in the basement fellowship room; a resource center with built-in cabinetry and many more accoutrements designed to improve the church's flow and functionality.


"Every bathroom is new," Karen detailed. "We had a marvelous volunteer member, Robert Halvorson, who's retired, but did all the plumbing work for free. Because of that, the insurance company allowed us to put in all new fixtures, because we didn't have to pay a plumber."

Another member, Carol Christianson, stitched white hardanger paraments to replace those lost in the fire and also created new banners and wall hangings to be displayed throughout the church. The only "original" décor left in the entire church is a hand-painted mural in the former nursery, now called the "family room."

"That was painted by Kim Nielsen," said Karen, pointing to the brightly painted wall. "I wouldn't let them paint over it, although they had that Kilz primer down over part of it. She came in and repainted what had to be done. This is the only thing in the whole building that doesn't have a new coat of paint."

Bringing the church from the ashes of destruction to this "new and improved" version took a concerted effort by the primary contractor, Doom & Cuypers Inc., of Marshall, a bevy of subcontractors and army of willing and able congregational volunteers. The Skarphols, of course, had a hand in it, too. Karen kept a journal throughout the process so she can remember exactly how far they have come.

"It was a stressful year," reflected Karen, "but the volunteers came out of the woodwork. I know of one of them that from April through mid-January, he probably had 118 days in, and there were many others who have many, many hours in."

Despite all those efforts, however, the goal of being back in the church by Christmas was not met. The congregation rejoiced in its first service in the revitalized structure on Feb. 4, and the celebration will continue during a rededication and open house on Sunday.

Special services will be at 8:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday. An open house will be from 1 to 4 p.m., with a program at 3 p.m. to recognize the many people who had a part in the restoration.

And the celebration will continue throughout the coming year, as American Lutheran Church has a significant anniversary -- 125 years. The major celebration of that milestone is slated for July 14-15.



Current staff directory

SENIOR PASTOR -- Stephen Norby

INTERIM PASTOR -- Terry Frovik






CUSTODIANS -- Jim & Karen Skarphol

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