Showing posts with label Whittaker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Whittaker. Show all posts

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Little White Clapboard Church in Whittaker, Michigan

When I can’t sleep, I pour myself a cup of milk and power up my computer and head for the Internet. I never know what direction I will go, but sometimes I get lucky and find something serendipitous. Well, to me, at least. Such was what happened the other night.

When I was a little boy our family went to Sunday service at St. Joseph Mission church in Whittaker, Michigan. We moved away in 1963 when I was 13 and the little, white, clapboard church was abandoned shortly thereafter, when the congregation decided to build a bigger, brick church with room to grow.

I drove by the old church a couple of times over the years, but when I went by a few years ago, nothing was left except the sidewalk and the foundation. I thought that age or fire had consumed the church and felt a sense of loss for a simpler time. I remember being an altar boy for a wedding. I remember a priest angrily chastising the altar boys for not knowing what the Pater Noster was. We knew the words in Latin, but had not put two and two together and realized that it was The Lord’s Prayer. I remember the little choir jammed in the tiny choir loft, and Marian Manners playing the organ and singing the lead. I remember the statues draped in purple and the Tabernacle empty on Passion Sunday. I remember the bishop coming for my confirmation and my dread that I wouldn’t know the answer to his questions about my faith, even though the answers had been drilled in my head.

Dad would drive the family to church on Sunday in one of his snazzy Desotos. I especially liked the 1959 coffee and cream version with huge fins.  We would listen to country gospel singing straight from the hollers of Kentucky on the way to church, and on the way back we would tune in The Polka Hour broadcasting from WFDF in Flint, Michigan. When my dad was on call at work and couldn’t make it to church, we went with my elderly neighbors  in their old lumbering Oldsmobile sedan that they drove to church, rain or shine, snow or sleet, every Sunday. There was many a Sunday when my mother had to stay home with the babies, but I made it to church in that roomy, rumbling Olds.

Field of Dreams Wedding Chapel in Milan was originally St. Joseph
Mission Church in Whittaker, Michigan. It was moved in 2007.
The loss of that simple white church bothered me for some reason and the other night I searched for information about the church. What I found brought me tears and joy. The little, white, clapboard church had indeed, faced obliteration by fire—as a training exercise for the fire department. The property had been sold and a housing development planned for the property. In the nick of time, someone had the idea to move the church elsewhere and rehabilitate it as a country wedding chapel. Built in the 1920s the old, clapboard building has new life as “The Field of Dreams Wedding Chapel”. I even located another website for the company, db.creations that restored the stained-glass windows. Many of the windows had been damaged in the moved, but the center panels which had been painted all survived intact.

Another website led me to an archive of newspaper articles collected by the Ann Arbor Public Library, where I found one that detailed the move of the church to its new home: 
Old News - St. Joseph's Catholic Church In Augusta Twp Waiting For The Train To Pass While Moving To Milan, May 2007. The journey was tedious and they had to cross a set of railroad tracks. The move was taking so long that they actually had to back the trailer up because of an oncoming train!


Moving the St. Joseph Mission Catholic Church in Whittaker, Michigan

One of these days, I might just make a trip back to that chapel, and spend a few minutes reflecting on a life well-spent, but regardless, I will sleep well, knowing that the little white church is still serving a spiritual purpose in the life of others.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake Trifle

Strawberry Shortcake Trifle
This recipe would never have been served during Lent as it is such a treat, but I was making it for a pot luck this evening and I thought you might enjoy it. The theme of the pot luck was bring a dish that you associate with your childhood. Something with strawberries in it came to mind. We grew them at home and there were several small farms in the area that grew them for sale near Whittaker, Michigan.

Whittaker, Michigan has always been a small town in southeast Michigan. A railroad track ran through it, but I don’t ever remember seeing a train. There was an old sawmill near the tracks, I think abandoned, even when I was a child. There were a couple of small churches, I remember one because it was an African American church, and the other was our mission church, St. Joseph Catholic, served by the priest from Immaculate Conception in Milan, about 15 miles away.


Whittaker was the home of the Augusta Township Hall and the Augusta Township Volunteer Fire Department. Both buildings sat at the corner of Talladay and Whittaker Road. Each summer the fire department would have a strawberry social as a fundraiser. Picnic tables were often set up in the field next to St. Josephs. Even though we grew our own strawberries at home, there was something special about getting a dollop of stewed strawberries on a piece of yellow cake and vanilla ice cream served in a cardboard container.

Last year, my 80-year-old friend Paul was celebrating a very special anniversary and he was hosting a reception for his friends. He was planning to make strawberry shortcake for a very large group of people. We convinced him that that would be too much work for him as friends would be visiting from out of state so a group of friends of his got together at my house and made strawberry shortcake for about 75 people. We made three 9”x13”x4” pans. Less than a month later we once again made the same strawberry shortcake, but this time it was for his memorial service as he had passed away. His goal had always been to live long enough to make that 50th anniversary and he did.

Paul was very kind to me during a very difficult time of my life. He told me to keep things simple. And he asked me to quit smoking. And I’ve done both.

Strawberry Trifle
The recipe that follows is sometimes called a Strawberry Trifle as it incorporates vanilla pudding instead of ice cream. It has become my go to dish when I am asked to bring something for a crowd. It’s easy and everybody likes strawberries, cake, pudding and whipped cream. When I make this recipe I usually have some leftovers as not everything will fit in the pan, so even if I leave my dish behind, I know that a midnight snack awaits me at home! You can also readily adapt this recipe for folks that are on a low sugar diet by substituting Splenda for the sugar in the strawberries and using artificially sweetened pudding and whipped topping. We did this for one of the pans for the memorial service and I don't think anyone noticed the difference, except those who had to watch their sugar were extremely appreciative of the tasty treat!


Strawberry Shortcake Trifle

1 box butter recipe cake baked as directed
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 quarts fresh strawberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 4.6 ounce packages cook & serve vanilla pudding
6 cups milk
1 21 ounce can strawberry pie filling
2 tablespoons butter, divided and cubed
1 16 ounce container Cool Whip whipped topping
4 tablespoons red currant jelly
1/2 cup sliced almonds, slightly toasted (optional)

Prepare cake mix as directed adding in 1 teaspoon of grated orange rind. Bake cake as directed. Allow to cool completely. When cool, slice about 1/2 inch off of the top. This piece can be reserved in a medium serving bowl. Put remaining cake in a 9”x13”x4” disposable aluminum serving pan.

Wash and hull the strawberries. Set aside about a dozen nice ones. Slice the remaining berries into halves or more if very large and sprinkle with 2/3 cup of sugar. Cover and put in refrigerator and allow to set for about 4 hours until sugar is dissolved and some juice is released from the strawberries.


Mix strawberries with one can strawberry pie filling. Spoon strawberries over cake, covering cake completely. Don’t put too much in as you have to keep room for the pudding and whipped topping. Pour remaining strawberries over leftover cake. Refrigerate.


Prepare pudding as directed. Whisk constantly during cooking as you do not want the pudding to burn. When done, remove from heat and whisk in butter. Continue whisking until butter is absorbed. Put pan in a cooling bath of ice cubes and water and cool until almost room temperature, whisking occasionally to keep the pudding smooth.


Spoon pudding over the strawberry layer until complete covered. Leftover pudding can be put on the leftover cake and strawberries. Return to refrigerator and chill for about four hours.

Top with whipped topping. Again, use leftover topping for cake, strawberries and pudding that was set aside.

Heat red currant jelly in small saucepan. Stir until dissolved and allow to come to room temperature.
The finished Strawberry Shortcake Trifle.

Slice all but one of the strawberries in half. Gently brush all of the strawberries with currant jelly. Arrange sliced strawberries in a rosette patter on top of the whipped topping using the whole strawberry for the center.

Decorate edges with toasted sliced almonds (optional). Allow to chill for about an hour before serving.

If you have a large enough round glass container, you could break up the cake and then layer in the strawberries and pudding leaving room for the whipped topping on top. It makes for a very dramatic presentation!