A truly gentle spirit
Not all gentlemen are gentle men, but gentle is a fitting description of Rev. Miles Walthour of Fredonia. It is a spirit that he brought with him when he moved to Fredonia from Lancaster as a young newly-wed minister more than 60 years ago.
He was born on December 23, 1919, in Greensburg, Pa, to farmers of German descent. Their house had neither plumbing nor heating, except for a coal stove. They never owned a car because everything was within walking distance.
“I went the first two years to a one-room school,” Rev. Walthour said. “Then they built a consolidated school right across the field from our house.”
After graduating from high school, he attended Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio. Then he went to The United Church of Christ’s Lancaster Theological Seminary.
The seminarians sometimes visited churches in the area. In one of them was a girl named Judy Carr. She was an only child, and her father died when she was just an infant. She and her mother moved in with her cousin Anne Roth’s family.
“She was an only child, too,” Judy said, “so we grew up to be as close as sisters.”
When the youth group at her church was going to a hockey game, Miles was invited as Judy’s blind date.
“I saw her and was struck,” Rev. Walthour said.
He graduated from the seminary on February 14, 1945, and was ordained on April 8, 1945. That same year he and Judy were married and moved to Fredonia, where he had been selected to pastor two churches known as the Shenango Charge of the United Church of Christ.
One of the churches he came to pastor was the Jerusalem Church on Donation Road in Otter Township. It was about to close up. The few remaining members would have gone to the United Church of Christ in Greenville. Rev. Walthour held services and Sunday School there every Sunday, and before long it began to grow.
The other part of his charge was a United Church of Christ congregation that shared St. John’s Lutheran Church on Greenville Mercer Road. It was what was called a Union church.
“When I first came, I had services there one Sunday and the Lutheran pastor would lead them the next,” Rev. Walthour said. “Then it changed. The Lutheran pastor had a service every Sunday at 9:30 and I had one at 11:00.”
Later the Lutherans built a new church closer to Greenville, and The United Church of Christ bought out the Lutheran share of the church.
Rev. Walthour was well prepared for his role. “I was raised in a rural community, so I was used to rural churches,” he said.
But being pastor in a rural community had its own unique challenges.
“At that time the minister always led the funeral processions,” his daughter Pam said. “But Dad hadn’t learned how to drive because his family never had a car. So Mom had to drive. Once she came up behind a hay wagon. She didn’t know whether she should follow it the whole way down the road, or pass it with all the people coming behind. That’s when she decided she was going to teach him how to drive so he could make such decisions.”
While pasturing two congregations for 40 years, Rev. Walthour preached at least 4,000 sermons.
“Dad is so well known for his heartfelt, sincere prayer,” Pam said. “He always had beautiful prayers. With any of our family gatherings he always stands up and starts out, ‘Let us unite our hearts in prayer.’ He always thanks God for our salvation and for the bounty of His storehouse.”
His appreciation of the bounty of God’s storehouse made Rev. Walthour a very practical man.
“He believes that you should never waste anything,” Pam said. “For example, you don’t burn brush without getting hot dogs out to have for supper. Anybody in Fredonia would know that he walked from their house on the top of the hill down to the post office to get the mail. He did that until about a year or two ago. He would pick up sticks as he walked along to put on his brush pile. But he would never burn it just to get rid of it.”
Rev. Walthour was always ready to respond to any need – for counseling, hospital visits, weddings, baptisms, funerals, or speaking engagements. In fact, he performed 695 baptisms and 409 funerals. He preached at least 4,000 sermons, made 38,400 hospital visits and pastoral calls, delivered 400 addresses outside the Shenango Charge, and performed 398 weddings before he retired in December,1984. He continued to conduct weddings even after he retired.
“Wedding number 200 was my husband and I,” Pam said. “Number 400 was our son and daughter-in-law. He also got to help with four of his grandchildren’s weddings.”
Pam remembers a lot of other weddings.
“He did a lot of weddings at the house, maybe people who didn’t belong to the church, or who wanted to have a small wedding. He normally wore his robe and stole, but in 1996 he did a motorcycle wedding and wore a leather jacket.”
His family was always very important to him. Pam (Mrs. Jack Meyer) was born in 1947, Carol (Mrs. Gary Williams) in 1950, and Vicki (Mrs. Robert Gibson) in 1954.
“He loves us girls,” Pam said, “and he’s been good with our husbands and with all of his seven grandchildren. He was always just as proud of them as he could be, and now is the same with his eight great-grandchildren.”
To be successful, every pastor needs the active support of his family. Rev. Walthour had that in abundance.
“Dad’s hours were odd,” Pam said. “He never knew when he would or wouldn’t be home, so Mom just took care of everything. She sewed most of our clothes when we were kids. She does lots of crafts. We all have doilies that she made, and crocheted Easter eggs.”
The family also helped out with the churches any way they could.
“Mom did all the typing for his sermons,” Pam said. “She typed up the bulletins with an old mimeograph machine every Saturday. We’d all be out there – Dad would crank it, and we’d have to put the sheets in to soak up the extra ink, then take the bulletins out and fold them. That was our Saturday routine. And Mom loves doing Bible School and Sunday School for the really little kids. She loved to teach them songs.”
What Pam treasures most about their father is his calm and gentle spirit.
“I never remember him raising his voice,” Pam said. “He does not get angry. He just takes things as they go. Dad walked out to the garden one day with my sister’s husband. He really loves his garden. He pulled up a cabbage plant. It had club root on it. He said very calmly, in just a monotone, ‘Now that really makes me mad.’ Another time the kids knocked all the sunflower plants down. Dad walked out to the garden and said, ‘Oh my.’ That was his reaction to anything.”
His gentleness and patience manifested itself in unusual ways.
“They’ve always had cats,” Pam said. “One of them would climb up when Dad was sitting at the breakfast table, put his hind legs on Dad’s shoulders, his body across his head, his front paws on his forehead, and just sit there. That’s how patient Dad is. He doesn’t even like to trim off the top of the shrubs. He doesn’t want to feel like he’s cutting anything off. He likes to see things grow.”
Of course even ministers must get away sometimes. The Walthours bought a camp site at Holiday Campgrounds in Andover. The family would spend time there so they could relax without a phone.
“If he stayed at home,” Pam said, “people would call for hospital visits or if there was any problem. So we always went on a summer vacation. Most of the time we went to Wildwood, NJ, with my Mom’s cousin Anne (Roth)and her husband Mac McAllister and their children. I can’t even remember how many summers we did that. Then McAllisters moved out to Phoenix, AZ, so several summers we went out to Phoenix.”
Rev. Walthour served as mayor of Fredonia from 1985 to 1999.
“He succeeded in getting free telephone service from Fredonia to Greenville,” Judy said. “Before that you had to pay for it. That meant a lot to the people in Fredonia. It worked out real well when you wanted to call the doctor or had some other emergency.”
When Rev. Walthour was a child, his family didn’t celebrate birthdays. And later, with his birthday two days before Christmas, his pastoral duties kept the celebrating to a minimum. But for his 80th birthday, his three daughters hosted a party at the Delaware Civic League and invited the public. It was an opportunity to celebrate not just his birthday, but his whole life – an opportunity not only for his family, but also for all the people in the community who love and respect him.
“The people of Fredonia have been very friendly and very generous,” Rev. Walthour said.
That simply means that they have responded in kind to a friendly, generous, gentle, and deeply spiritual man who served them so long and so faithfully.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 2, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2008