by Bill & Colleen Huckabee, April 1996

[Note: The below history of DUUF was written in April of 1996. A lot has changed since this history was written. DUUF no longer owns Emerson House, and had met for a couple of years again at Ohio Wesleyan University until June of 2010. Currently the Fellowship is again meeting at the Delaware Arts Castle.]


Earliest Gathering. Bill Wolf from Columbus reports having seen Ohio-Meadville District documents from a fellowship in Delaware in the 1960’s. No one now active has any information about this group.

Early 70’s Group. For about three years there was a fellowship which seemed to have drawn heavily from Ohio Wesleyan University faculty, met generally in members’ homes. The emphasis was intellectual and there was a studious aspect to the programs. Among the members of that group were: Harry & Phyllis Bahrick, Tom & Mary Alice Dillman, Alex & Ellie Heingartner, Nance Hinnenkamp, Guy & Connie Kaye, Bob & Helga Muladore, Charles & Elaine Reiner, and Paul & Margaret Shisler.

Current Fellowship. During a parent night at Smith School, in the spring of l979, the Gordons and Huckabees discovered that they had previously been active Unitarians in their former communities. That, assisted by the fact that gasoline was quite expensive and reduced driving was encouraged as an ecological consideration, it was decided to put an ad in the Delaware Gazette to see if there were enough other Unitarians in the area to consider starting a local group.

First Meetings. In May of 1979, a Sunday Morning meeting was held at the home of Bob and Kay Gordon at 193 North Washington St. There were 19 people in attendance. Among them (in addition to the Gordons and Huckabees), were Tom & Dorothy Allen, Tom & Mary Alice Dillman, Clarence & Wave Hunter, Paul & Margaret Shisler. It was decided to forego meeting on a regular basis until the fall. At that time we met in homes on Sunday mornings on a bi-weekly basis. Soon it became apparent that with the number of children involved, we would need more space.

Asbury United Methodist Church. By late fall, Asbury had agreed to let us meet weekly on Sunday evenings in the narthex. A special Christmas celebration/party was held with Bill & Carol Becker and other members of the Marion Group participating. Often our meeting room was rather chilly, but our spirits were warm. On January 13th a Needs Survey of 23 ideas were suggested by the fourteen persons present. The top items were: Family (multi-generational focus), Comparing major religions, Social Action, Social fellowship, Religious education, and Retreat. Based on this we came up with enough programs to get through the year.

On the September 21, 1980 roster, the following new names appear: Dan & Michela Christie, Tim& Lynn Cook, Steve & Ruth Ann DeWitt, Ken & Elaine Goodrich, Glenn& Trudy Muegel, Dusty & Jan Redmond. That fall also brought our first Retreat. (Many subsequent retreats were held at the summer home of Irving and Helen Pine a Hoover Lake. ) At our first retreat we planned the entire year’s programs. (In later years we had quarterly, rather than annual planning meetings, which made programming more manageable!) A memorable program that year was our first Thanksgiving Seder, brought to us by the Gordon’s from the Allentown, Pennsylvania church.

Our largest turnout of the year was for Clarence Hunter’s presentation on Shakespeare. Other programs included the dedication of Sarah Cook, “Favorite Flicks” (each family showing 10 favorite slides), nursing home caroling as a part of our Christmas activities, monthly visits to Columbus First Church, and a year end Picnic at the Allen’s (a favorite especially with the children). It was about this time that Jean Humphries, John & Carolyn Kneisly, and Charles & Elaine Reiner joined our ranks. Over time, the largeness and coolness of the room at Asbury, led us to look for other quarters — but not before singing from Bill Huckabee’s caroling sheet with the typo, “Sin in exultation!”

Zion United Church of Christ. Thanks to Tom Allen who was the organist there, Zion became our new home. It was then that we began to hold a worship service (in the sanctuary) before moving downstairs for our program. During these years the first of our Wesleyan Students, Susan Carr attended (to be succeeded by Jennifer Tobin, Sarah Paulin and Joy Twesigye). Don Rollins also began to come, often with his guitar. While at Methesco, Don became our first student intern. We also signed our first Membership Book and in1982 applied to be affiliated with the UUA. That year we produced our first play, “The Great American Cheese Sandwich,” followed sometime later by “Aunt Ethyl’s Galoshes.” Sometime during the ’80s, the Huckabees began to host an Easter Brunch on an annual basis. When Zion no longer required Tom’s services as organist, we became a people in need of a new home.

People In Need House. We were appropriately allowed to meet at this facility at 274 North Sandusky St. (interestingly enough, just two doors south of Emerson House). We continued to meet on Sunday evenings. We missed having a piano and Tom Allen’s organ and piano music terribly. We instituted a silent half-hour Meditation time before the service, at PIN — a tradition we learned from our Friends association. It was also the first time we did manual work on a “home,” foreshadowing Andrew’s House and our own Emerson House.

Ohio Wesleyan. Thanks to the support of chaplain Jim Leslie (and later Jon Powers) we were allowed to use these facilities and began Morning Services again. Initially we met at Phillips Hall using a lounge and the auditorium. It was at this time that Dave and Liz Diemer joined us and Colin became our first (and only Church School student) for some years. He learned a lot from his teacher, Elaine Reiner, and the rest of us benefited from frequent culinary aspects of the curriculum. Come to think of it, Food has always been an important aspect of this fellowship, and sharing it is the best!

Later we moved across the street to the Chapel in the Memorial Union Building. It was during 1989, that we celebrated our Tenth Anniversary. It was a nice event, though not overly attended by outside members of various religious communities. (Ouch!) For that occasion, we commissioned our Chalice and instituted a new membership book, having Lost the old one. (Being nomads this was our fate for a number of items of historical significance, though luckily, the artistic Banners create by Nance Hinnenkamp have been a continuous presence.) For most of our years Tom and Mary Alice Dillman have produced our Newsletter — our lifeline! Also during these years, the Reiners added a swimming pool to their property and the Summer Swim became an institution.

When the OWU Chaplains office moved to the new Hamilton-Williams Center in 1991, we went along and used the new chapel and adjacent meeting room. We surely had the best Sunday morning view of Delaware. You might think that was what gave us new directions and a will to grow, but in fact it was John Morgan from the District UUA whom we engaged to help us grow. He suggested first that we compress our worship and program into a single service and that we announce child care and a Church School Program. (Gulp) We did!

John also stressed the importance of a leader, and it was after he left that we engaged Jenifer Tobin, then a student at Methesco, as our Fellowship Leader. She was followed by Kay Greenleaf who currently is our Fellowship Coordinator and guide. This kind of structure, plus the leadership provided first by Marty and then Bob Keith, moved the fellowship into a new era.

While we had used UUA adult curricula — notably “Developing Your Own Theology” — it was the establishment of the women’s “Cakes” group. (“Cakes for the Queen of Heaven”), which launched a cherished, candid and wonderfully successful group — many of whom joined the fellowship (often bringing “significant others” with them.)

Expanded membership and the possibility of a permanent home, brought about a Board of Trustees who began to meet as a separate group for the first time, with Tom Allen acting as treasurer — as he had for many of our years together. It was also during these years that John and Carolyn Kneisly instituted our Reading Project at the LCCC (Liberty Community Children’s Center).

The Delaware County Community Arts Center & Andrew’s House occasionally provided a temporary home for us when it was not possible to meet at Ohio Wesleyan. During 1994 and to the present our membership has grown by leaps and bounds. Many will remember that Sunday morning in the spring of 1995, when more people were inducted into membership than there were attending members to greet them! These newer members have provided the fellowship with incredible talent, dedication and energy. Their names appear in the membership book as the beginning of a new chapter of our fellowship, yet to be written in detail.

Emerson House. And now we have our own home. A logos. A place in the community. We have new responsibilities and duties to maintain it and to maintain the spirit of this fellowship. Few of us who started this organization were able to see how we could ever get this far though it was always our hope and our dream. Basically we enjoyed and were nourished by our commitment to one another and we focused on the next quarter’s — or even Sunday’s — program!

Dorothy Allen said it well, when she described our fellowship as “an interactive, intergenerational, spiritually seeking group.” Or, as is printed on our “official” DUUF shirts: “Questioning Minds, Loving Hearts.”

Note: The dedication of Emerson House as the home of the Delaware Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship seemed a most appropriate time to recall and record how this fellowship came to be. To that end, a group of founding members met on January 13, 1996 to spur each others’ memories in a recorded session. We were aided in this endeavor by Bob Gordon’s copy of the Newsletter from January 16, 1980 and by Tom Allen’s appendices G, P, S, and T from the application to the UUA for a building loan/grant written in 1995. Additions and corrections are encouraged and welcomed by the authors.