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If the walls of Longboat Island Chapel could talk, they’d tell stories of couples vowing to love each other till death do them part; Boy Scouts learning life skills; friends counseling each other through grief and transitions; women collecting consignment items for needy families; countless musical performances; aging seminars; christenings; funerals; holiday parties; and Sunday services.
The church, which began in 1956 with 28 friends gathering in each other’s homes on a rotating basis, cemented itself as a Longboat Key institution in 1963 with the construction of a permanent meeting place at 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive. Fifty years later, 120 members packed its fellowship hall Friday, Feb. 22, to commemorate the building’s golden anniversary with a dinner, history lesson, music and skit.
Many of the church’s original members have died, but several of their descendants, who have since joined participated in the festivities. Among them: Pauline Schroeder, who first attended while visiting her parents, starting in 1969. Ten years later, she relocated from Hillsborough County to Longboat Key and became a church regular until last April, when she moved to a retirement home in Fort Myers.
“This place has been the site of some happy events and some sad ones,” Schroeder said. “Here the Rev. Jim Marsh christened one of my grandchildren and also conducted my parents’ memorial service when they died in an accident.”
Board President Sue Reese also got her start attending the church while visiting her parents in the late 1960s. A member for the past 15 years, she has hundreds of fond memories, but counts the congregation’s work during the past year as the reason to celebrate. The fruits of their labor: an elevator; an outdoor staircase to the “Aging in Paradise” suite on the second floor; a refurbished roof; and an irrigation system and landscaping.
“This time last year, if you were a stranger, you’d run out when you saw a pile of rubble where the elevator now is or noticed the leaking roof,” she said. “But people performed miracles, and now this place is sparkling and ready for the future.”
Parishioners donated $91,000 for renovations and dozens “constantly volunteered for manual labor,” she said. “With this group, there’s an inclination to serve, but this was a night to sit and enjoy ourselves.”
Hallowed Ground: A timeline of Longboat Island Chapel
1961-1963: The Rev. Edward Williams leads the congregation.
January 13, 1963: The chapel’s dedication and first service; 425 attend.
1963-1972: The Rev. Lamar Kincaid leads the congregation.
November 3, 1965: First formal meeting of the Women’s Auxiliary takes place.
1973-1996: The Rev. James Marsh leads the congregation.
1976: Chapel initiates landscaping project and construction of a garden.
Late 1980s: Chapel adds a minister’s study, “little” chapel, fellowship hall and kitchen.
January 1996: Grand opening of “The Lord’s Warehouse,” a church-run consignment store in adjoining lot, takes place.
May 1997: The Friendship Garden is dedicated.
1997-1998: The Rev. William Grossman leads the congregation.
1998-2000: The Rev. Charles Shook leads the congregation.
2000-2012: The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Gill leads the congregation.
April 22, 2012: Ribbon-cutting ceremony for new elevator for Aging in Paradise Center takes place.
January 2013: The Rev. Dr. Vince Carroll is named pastor.