On Memorial Day Sunday in 1931 Amsterdam’s East Main Street Methodist Episcopal Church (E.M.M.E.) was crowded with people who came to honor veterans of the Civil War, Spanish-American War and the Great War.
Presiding over the event was the charismatic pastor, the Rev. Dr. Clark S. Defandorf, who had been assigned to the Methodists’ East End pulpit in 1929.
In 1932 Defandorf was transferred to Northville’s First Methodist Church. Such a three year term was common in that day’s Methodist Church. However my parents, members of E.M.M.E. then, said that although they admired Defandorf, he had started to wear out his welcome.
Many English and Scottish immigrant families attended E.M.M.E., located at the corner of East Main Street and Vrooman Avenue. The church declined in the 1940s and closed after World War II. The building today is the city’s Cultural Arts Center.
The 1931 Memorial Day Sunday service attracted “city-wide interest” and was “beautifully impressive” according to a story in the Amsterdam Recorder.
The sanctuary was “massed with blooms” including white and purple lilacs and a bouquet of roses in memory of church member William Firth who had died in World War I.
Firth was a native of England who came to Amsterdam at age 10 and became a carpet weaver. He was scoutmaster of E.M.M.E.’s pioneer Amsterdam Boy Scout Troop #1. He died in France’s Argonne Forest in October 1918 during one of the final assaults of the war.
A bugle and the organ, the latter played by Algernon Firth, announced the start of the 1931 service. The choir entered singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The sides of the sanctuary were lined with gold fringed American flags.
Posting of the colors was performed by members of the city’s two American Legion posts.
In his sermon, Dr. Defandorf expanded a eulogy of Bill Firth to include all the “Bills” who died in three wars.
“That name ‘our Bill’ is legion,’ Defandorf said. “Dare we live in a country built on such sacrifice and not remember them on a day like this?”
My father, Clarence Cudmore, sang “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Boys Are Marching,” a song from the Civil War. Defandorf presented a “floral token of remembrance” to each Grand Army of the Republic Civil War veteran and veteran’s widow. He turned to the Gold Star Mothers and did a reading of the song lyrics of “My Buddy.”
The program ended outdoors with a memorial prayer by the pastor and the posting of a wreath in memory of Bill Firth by Firth’s sister, Mrs. Edna Schuhardt. The bugler played “Taps.”
That summer of 1931 my father wrote of a rain-soaked church picnic in Tribes Hill where Doc Defandorf’s car got stuck on wet grass and my father and his friends had to put chains on the tires.
“I had my new suit on, so you could imagine how mad I was,” my father wrote in a letter to my mother.
Born in Troy, Defandorf graduated from Watervliet high in 1914. He attended Wesleyan College in Connecticut, interrupted by Army service in World War I with artillery and aviation units.
He graduated from Wesleyan in 1920, was married and earned a doctorate at University of Minnesota in sociological psychology.
He was pastor of two churches in Michigan, one in Detroit, then moved to small town congregations in New York state until his appointment to Amsterdam in 1929.
After Defandorf left Amsterdam in 1932 he was pastor at Northville’s First Methodist Church at least through 1940. He produced many musical services there, including a pageant he wrote for the church in 1936.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].
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