Storm-hit Ellinwood church to try to rebuild

06/15/2007 1:01 AM

01/24/2008 5:15 PM

The owners of a century-old church near here that was heavily damaged by the tornado that leveled Greensburg will renovate and repair the building as money becomes available.

Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, five miles north of Ellinwood, lost its steeple and suffered other serious damage as the tornado moved through the area May 4.

The storm tore away much of the south roof, ripped off the 99-foot steeple, knocked over the chimney and poured rain into the interior.

On Tuesday, contractor Leo Millet cleared debris from the steeple and planned to place a temporary plastic cover over the bell tower to prevent further rain damage.

Watching from below, church trustees Joe Hickel and Arthur Halsig peered skyward as the bricks fell into a Dumpster.

"It's a sad day, another sad day," Hickel said.

The church dates to 1875, when the first Mass was celebrated in homes in the German farming community. The present church was built in 1892, and services were held there until 1986, when the building was released to the Saints Peter and Paul Heritage Association.

After the storm, the Heritage Association Board of Trustees decided to proceed with preservation and partial restoration as money allows. An appeal for government funds to help with the restoration has been denied because the building is a church.

"The immediate plans are to restore the roof and replace the broken roof joists," Hickel said.

The estimated cost of repairing the roof is $25,600, while the cost of restoring the steeple is unknown, Hickel said.

Farmers near the church learned of the storm damage when a Barton County patrol officer notified them that trees from the churchyard were covering the blacktop road in front of the church. When lightning moved across the sky, they saw the steeple was gone, Halsig said.

When word of the damage spread, Hickel said, "There was a lot of sentiment and a lot of emotion."

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