Windermere's earliest settlers seeking a place to worship in 1911 began meeting at the old schoolhouse on Seventh Street. Rotating pastors served the informal congregation until 1916, when 11 people of various denominations organized the Union Church of Windermere.
By 1920, services were being held every Sunday except in the summer months, when the Rev. John Champion returned to his home in Canada.
A building program was started after World War I, and on Jan. 4, 1924, the non-denominational church's white sanctuary was dedicated at 436 Oakdale St. in downtown Windermere. There were no funds available for a furnace, so a Franklin stove was used for heating in the winter.
The church was declared debt-free the following year, and the note and mortgage were burned in April. A chimney for a furnace was built, but funds to purchase one weren't available until later.
In 1929, the church voted to sponsor Boy Scouts. The first formal wedding uniting Juanita Lawrence and Hughes Browning was held June 18, 1932. Five years later, memorial windows were placed in the church.
A rise in membership and participation dictated more classrooms in 1940-41. The Rev. John Ischy organized a Young Matrons Class in Sunday school. These women sponsored the first kindergarten, sponsored and financed the first Boy Scout Troop 223 and the first Cub Scout troop and furnished den mothers for the first three Brownie troops. They also started the first church library.
A parsonage was purchased in 1953 for $14,500.
In 1961, the Windermere church became affiliated with the United Church of Christ following its formation as a new denomination in 1957. Windermere Union was the only church in town until 1961, when the First Baptist Church was started.
As the church membership grew, a larger sanctuary was necessary, and the campus expanded.
A men's club was formed in 1962 and remained active until the Windermere Rotary Club organized in 1969. The church men's group decided to join the Rotary membership.
Windermere Union and First Baptist Isleworth combined youth and community programs at Windermere Town Hall in 1968.
By 1973, church membership had reached 382.
It was decided in 1979 that the pastor's home was in need of costly repairs, so it was sold for $69,500 and a new one was built on the church's adjoining lot on First Avenue.
Through the years, Windermere Union Church has assisting in building a community center in Zaire, Africa, constructed a home for a family in Guatemala through Habitat for Humanity and sponsored several Vietnamese families coming to West Orange County. It also helps support the West Orange Christian Service Center.
Windermere Union eventually outgrew its space at Oakdale and Fifth streets and purchased property at 10710 Park-Ridge Gotha Road in 2002. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in 2005 on the seven-acre site. To retain some of the church's long history, the congregation saved the stained-glass windows and pews from the chapel to be incorporated in the new church.
The first Sunday service was held at the new 250-seat church Sept. 17, 2006, with the Rev. Barton Buchanan at the pulpit. A dedication was held Oct. 1. The new campus included an 11,000-square-foot sanctuary and 5,900-square-foot preschool building.
In 2010, the church announced that New Hope United Methodist Church would be leasing the facilities. A new Brazilian congregation also found a home at Windermere Union Church. Igreja Presbiteriana Viva held its first Portuguese-language service June 20, 2015.
WINDERMERE UNION CHURCH PRESCHOOL
The preschool was founded by the Young Matrons Class of the Windermere Union Church in 1959. It had 15 students. It was the only kindergarten in the area at the time when area schools started with first grade.
Lucille Berry Hopkins was the school's first director, assisted by Jane Anderson. In 1953, Hopkins had started a kindergarten for community children in her home. Two years later, she moved it to the church. She continued to lead until 1966.
The preschool moved to the church's new classroom building in the 1960s. Shirley Nesbit was director in 1967, and Jo Barton Tuck assumed the role in 1968. The following year, 50 4- and 5-year-olds were enrolled in kindergarten. Tuition was $22.50 a month.
The program transitioned from kindergarten to preschool in the early 1970s when public schools added kindergarten.
Other directors were Faye Bishop in 1985, Julia Bates Toone from 1986-88, Carol Williams from 1988-94, Ellen Annis from 1994-97, Karin Tambert from 1997-2002 and Kim Collins from 2002 to present.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].