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Demolition of old First Baptist Church marks the end of Sikeston landmark

Sunday, February 6, 2005

SIKESTON - Scheduled for demolition this month, the old First Baptist Church building on South Kingshighway will soon be removed to the world of fond memories.

"First Baptist Church has meant a great deal to Sikeston," said Geneva Beck. "My husband and I both became members there in 1943. My husband is now deceased but I'm still a member of the church.

"I've had a very good life at First Baptist Church," Beck said. "All the members of my family became Christians at the First Baptist Church, so the First Baptist Church has a spot in my heart."

"I grew up in the church and I'm still a member," said Margaret Lee. "I was church clerk for about 38 years."

Only one person - Bernetta Williams - has been a member of the church longer than her. "I started going there when I was 7 years old and I'm 85 now," Lee said.

Naturally, the church is a part of many of Lee's memories: "That's where I was baptized and went for many years," she said. "I was there through a lot of ups and downs and I was there during the new building phase when we built the new facility."

Lee recalled the congregation celebrating their 100th year in the South Kingshighway building and, having outgrown the space there, being ready for the new location.

"We were very excited about moving - it was well organized and we just stepped into a new building without a hitch of any kind," Lee said, crediting the smooth transition to the pastor at the time, Dr. James W. Hackney.

"There were no regrets - there was a lot of nostalgia that you go back and remember but you can't live in the past. You have to move forward for progress," Lee said.

Beck said she, too, was happy to see her church grow to the point where they needed the new building. Nevertheless, when she passes by the old church on South Kingshighway "there's a little bit of a sadness. Lots of people have passed through there."

Beck said part of her is sad to see it torn down, "but I fully understand - its a facility that's outdated." The church building is part of a bygone era for Sikeston, Beck said, a reminder that once there were only a few churches, each with large congregations that outgrew their facilities.

"The First Christian Church, the First Methodist Church, the First Baptist and the First Church of the Nazarene," Beck said. "Those are the four that I remember specifically that I knew the most about."

Each of the churches went on to build new buildings, Beck said. The old First Methodist Church burned down leaving behind its pillars which stand today as a memorial near the Post Office.

Now when she scans the Standard Democrat's church section, "I see a whole page of churches I know nothing about," Beck said.

Lyman Dale, too, attended many services, baptisms and weddings at the building. "I'm proud of the memories of the old church," he said.

"It's not a fancy place, but to us it was," said Dale, who will mark his 80th year as a Baptist this summer. "I'm 96 now - I joined in my senior year," he said.

The pastor Dale most closely associates with the old First Baptist Church building on South Kingshighway is Rev. E.D. Owen.

"He was a Baptist for 50 years and had our church for 12 years," Dale said. "One of his sons was our high school basketball coach. My son was on that team."

Pictures of the old church and Rev. Owen still hang on Dale's wall.

"I lost my son - I was brokenhearted," Dale said. "I thought, 'I'll spend more time with my church.'"

Dale went on to serve as president of the church's Baptist Brotherhood for about 10 to 12 years.

"The old building had character - it was an old building," Dale said. "When I go to the corner near it, I have an eerie feeling."

Lee said the worst part has been seeing the old church deteriorate into a derelict structure. "It would be a relief to see it torn down rather than see it in the condition it is now," she said.

And it may well be with its earthly remains removed from sight, memories and photographs of the building in its prime will present a truer image for posterity.

"There's a part of my heart that's still at the First Baptist Church, the old building," said Beck. "Memories are one of God's gifts, and I have a lot of good memories of First Baptist Church."