Our First Decade: 1987-1996
Throughout June and July 1987, the founders of UKV first met to begin planning how to bring a Unity church to Charleston. They were Janet and John Mani, Sharon Mayes, Charlie Ware and Patricia and Kurt Olmosk. They invited the following to join them in forming a Steering Committee: Carmen and Rico Vega, Karen and Rich Hopkins. Faye and Charlie McComas, and Joan and Jack Moss. This was the beginning. Meetings were held in homes and much research was done on how to bring Unity to Charleston. As direction became clear the committee was guided to Unity of Roanoke, Virginia. Several committee members traveled there for an evaluation of the church and its leadership. The impressions were very positive, and in August Unity of Roanoke Valley in Roanoke agreed to become our sponsor church.
Our first service as Unity of Kanawha Valley was held on the evening of Sunday, October 23, 1987, on the second floor of Charleston’s YWCA. Eighty five people attended. Turnout continued to be high, lending enthusiasm to the congregation. Rich Hopkins, a founding member, and his dedicated daughters aided the desire for music, sound reinforcement and service recordings by bringing the equipment from his car up three flights of stairs every Sunday, and then returning them to his car after the service. Other members brought the meeting room to life by carrying in coffee, books for the bookstore, the keyboard and songbooks, and setting up chairs. After each service these dedicated people dismantled and hauled away all the materials and cleaned the area, then repeated the process on the following Sunday.
In 1988, with 51 charter members, Unity of Kanawha Valley applied to the Association of Unity Churches to become a church and was recognized that same year. The members hired their first full time minister, Greg Wissman. Services were moved to 11:00 a.m.. Two years later, another founding member, Sharon Mullins was instrumental in securing a new meeting space in a lovely home at 1030 Bridge Road.
The YMCA had determined to use their space for a new purpose, and while the set-up of the new services were less than ideal, membership continued to grow. We kept our focus on finding a church home we could make our own.
Unity minister Reverend Lois Webb was hired as an interim minister in 1993. She brought leadership and stability while increasing membership and member communication. Confidence in her gave the Board courage to move forward with plans to buy our own church home. In August 1994, UKV Board members purchased an A-frame church building at 3102 Blaine Boulevard from the Unitarian Universalist Church for $48,000. Only seven years from our founding, UKV now had a home of its own and was prepared to begin a search for a full time minister.
In 1995 the search began in earnest. Several applicants were interviewed, but Woody Hawley, a recent graduate from Unity minister school in Unity Village, was the clear choice. Woody, his wife Pam, and son Doug moved to Charleston. Renovations, remodeling projects, and system upgrades were undertaken during Woody’s years of service. The first fundraiser was organized which financed the purchase of a new piano. Wonderful musicians were hired, including Ron Sowell and Jack Kennedy. The monthly coffeehouse was started, and membership grew. Woody Hawley was the beacon during an extremely important era of spiritual growth and strengthening of UKV.
Our Second Decade: 1997-2006
Our second decade experienced great sorrow as Reverend Woody was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and passed in 1999. The Association of Unity Churches provided financial and moral support, and recommended an interim minister, Rev. Donna Unfield, to serve UKV during Woody’s final days and the ensuing grieving process.
The mortgage on the Blaine Boulevard property was paid off by 2001 and UKV hired its third minister, Reverend Brenda Windell. The following year we hired an administrative director, Pam Hippler, whose efforts continue as of this writing, to keep our church in order. Reverend Sky Kershner, D.M., became our pastoral leader in 2004, after bringing many Sunday lessons to the congregation when our regular minister was away. Sky continues to serve and is our longest serving minister.
As our second decade came to a close, the Board of Trustees’ discussions involved the need to move to a larger facility. UKV was still growing and members were confident of its continued presence in the Kanawha Valley.
Our Third Decade: 2007-2016
Our third decade began with excitement as Board President Matt Schwartz presented Ed Rugley, business manager of the Kanawha Presbytery, a financial plan in August 2009 to justify the purchase of the South Hills Presbyterian Church property located at 804 Myrtle Road. In November the decision was made by the UKV board and Sky to proceed with the purchase of the property even though major repairs were needed. The deed for our home at 804 Myrtle Road was signed by board members Ruth Davis, Marianne Gettman, Karen Sylvester, Mathew Schwartz, Peggy Gunter, Linda Austin and Judy Chapman on January 2, 2010, with a purchase price of $250,000. This Myrtle Road property is a historically significant stone structure completed in 1902. It was built before Bridge Road was paved and before the South Side Bridge was erected. Stones were quarried on Davis Creek and hauled over mud roads on horse drawn wagons to the construction site. Another attached building was added along with beautiful stained glass windows in 1955.
During the next year, extensive cleaning and renovation in the new church took place. The building had been closed and unused for a long time and was not yet habitable. Sanctuary carpet, drapes and pew cushions were removed to get rid of the mildew odor. Carpet removal revealed a complete ping-pong table that had been used to repair the floor on the stage area. Ceiling and wall cracks were repaired by Bill Bowers and Blue Westfall. Every room was cleaned and painted primarily by teams who adopted projects. Gerie Ann Selbe, with her vast interior decorating experience, acted as consultant in the design of the restoration. She visioned or approved virtually all design ideas and selected every paint color that was used. Linda Austin, Peggy and Ed Gunter, Janet Prince, Pam Hippler, David and Marianne Gettman, Lisa Beck, Judy Hamilton, Mindy Allenger, Christy and Matt Schwartz, Karen Sylvester, and David and Maria Celeste Kershner are just a few who were involved. A new carpet was installed in the sanctuary.
The stage alcove was redesigned and redone by Ed Gunter. The main floor bathroom was cosmetically redone and donated by Peggy and Ed Gunter and Ruth Davis. The kitchen cabinets and flooring were replaced, and reorganization was led by Juanita Ruth One. All the old kitchen equipment (pots, pans, dishes, glasses, plates, cups, punch bowls, etc.) was donated to Restore. Ed Gunter built a new stage in the downstairs activity room, including upgraded electrical and audio wiring. He also installed a new
HVAC system for the sanctuary and a replacement HVAC system for the activity room.The moldy walls in the rear downstairs rooms were removed and areas treated with Blue Westfall at the lead. Although it took more than a village to accomplish all that was done, the efforts of Matt Schwartz, Gerie Ann Selbe and Ed Gunter stand out. Detailed personal accounts of the renovations can be found in the Recollections Section.
UKV’s first service in our home at 804 Myrtle Road was held on March 4, 2010.
Renovations continued during the year as Peggy Gunter worked with Rhone-Poulenc to acquire furniture and cabinets when they closed their local operation. Reverend Sky donated a white bench and chairs that belonged to his mother. Gerie Ann and Jim Selbe donated chairs for the meditation room. Bookcases from Kathy Johnson were moved in for the Lending Library. A new asphalt shingle roof was installed on the sanctuary and bell tower roofs during that year, along with soffits, new gutters and downspouts. The new roof matched the activity building roof color and replaced the original slate roof. Congregants were pleased that what was jokingly referred to as Jesus’ tears no longer flowed down the sanctuary walls whenever it rained. New fascia boards were installed. The project was largely financed by an anonymous interest-free loan that was repaid after the sale of the Blaine Boulevard property. To top the year off, members raised donations for new energy efficient windows to be installed in the activity building, and Ed Gunter created a dove-shaped weathervane, a symbol of Unity, and placed it on top of the bell tower.
Janet Prince joined UKV in 2010 after moving to the Kanawha Valley. She had been active in Unity in other places where she lived and had been trained in Unity Minister Stretton Smith’s 4-T Prosperity program. This stands for Tithing of Time, Talent and Treasure and involves a 12-week process in which students learn practices that lead to greater prosperity including the practice of having a prayer partner. Janet’s previous Unity churches had prayer chaplains and encouraged prayer partnerships, in which two people agree to pray together and hold one another’s concerns in confidence. Janet worked to educate UKV on the practice and, in time, the congregation began to embrace the idea of prayer partnerships and the idea of a Prayer Chaplain program. In October 2015 she, Sharon Mullins, and Sky Kershner traveled to Chesapeake, VA, to attend a training with Reverend Lei Lanni Burt’s Light and Love Ministries, a Prayer Chaplain program offered through Renaissance Unity of Virginia. Upon their return the Board agreed to begin a prayer chaplain program, with Sharon and Janet offering individualized prayer with people after service each Sunday.
The next major project came in 2012, when the company Ranson Stone remade the front wall and sidewalk and poured a new front entrance porch. New handrails made the upgrade complete. Our property gained an additional purpose in 2014 when, under Reverend Sky’s leadership, UKV agreed to lease part of the church to Mountaineer Montessori School during the week so that they could have a middle school for seventh and eighth grade students.
2014 marked the ten-year anniversary of having Rev. Sky Kershner as our spiritual leader. We celebrated by presenting Sky with a booklet of appreciation, testimonials, photos, gifts, and other commemorative items.
An appraisal of the church was completed in 2015. In addition to authenticating a value to the property the information also identified the areas that needed to be addressed to maintain the long-term integrity of the structures and increase the value of our investment.
After a one-year hiatus, the Woody Hawley Concert Series returned in 2015, featuring nationally known singer/songwriters along with regional musicians. Ron Sowell, the creator and host of this music series, held the concerts at The Clay Center. UKV remained the primary sponsor of the series.
Our financial future grew more secure in 2015 when church members Greg Thaxton, Sharon Mullins and David Gettman successfully negotiated the sale of the Blaine Boulevard property for $55,000 to the Church of Deliverance, represented by Pastor Estella Nappier and her husband Howard Nappier.
UKV’s third decade drew to a close with a water diversion project. The appraisal made us aware that the long-term integrity of the building foundation was at stake. Greg Thaxton provided the expertise and leadership to work with the contractor and supervise the completion in 2016.
Our Fourth Decade: 2017-2026
The water diversion project made it possible for Mountaineer Montessori Middle School to expand into the back classroom area and, in 2017 they signed a second three year lease with UKV. They partnered with us to make some major physical upgrades to the activity room. The rear room was also repaired and repainted, and it was turned into an additional classroom.
By 2018, the Prayer Chaplain program expanded to provide monthly calls to members to offer affirmative prayer. That year Marianne Gettman and Kate Butcher joined the program, as did Karen Patrick who was interning as part of her ministerial training.
Many indoor and outdoor improvements to our church were made in 2018. Because of damage from water, ice, and tree debris, the gutters and downspouts were replaced. The downspouts were rerouted to move water away from the foundation and driveway side of the building. A “Gutter Guard” system was installed. The project was largely donated by our “Gutter Girl”, Patricia Richmond.
Inside, the Stained Glass Window project was completed. Patty Richmond recruited Ruth Davis and Gerie Ann Selbe to help with project design and planning. Amanda’s Stained Glass was selected to be the contractor to carry through with the creation of a new window to be installed in the sanctuary alcove. She also was contracted to perform the repair and cleaning of exterior sanctuary stained glass. A sub-contractor was hired to replace the clouded exterior plexiglass window protectors with new automotive type glass coverings in addition to scraping and painting the frames. Patty Richmond donated one half of the funds secured to fund the project with the other half coming from a window adoption fundraising effort. Maria Young of the Gazette-Mail wrote a feature article in a Sunday newspaper using color photos.
We held a dedication ceremony for the stained glass windows and the addition of a Peace Pole in October of that year; then, in December, celebrated the generosity of our membership for contributions enabling significant improvements such as new covers on the activity room chairs, major upgrades to the audio/visual system and beautification of the Stained Glass Windows. There are commemorative plaques on the wall at the rear of the sanctuary recognizing the donors whose generosity made the windows and audio/visual projects possible.
Major audio-visual upgrades continued into 2019 including extensive wiring improvements, equipment purchases and installation. Rich Hopkins provided design and installation leadership on these projects as he has on most all A/V related projects at UKV. Rev Sky also contributed expertise to
the evolution of the systems. Facebook and YouTube broadcast capabilities were installed and Zoom capabilities were enabled.
These technological upgrades helped UKV to persevere through the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, which reached Charleston in March 2020. Services began being broadcast exclusively online through Zoom, Facebook and YouTube because of the closure of non-essential
businesses. Our Sunday services in the sanctuary did not resume until 2022; however, Realtime Zoom and delayed Facebook and YouTube broadcasts were continued and have an active membership as of this writing.
The pandemic altered our service delivery, but it did not slow the members’ actions in continuing progress on the UKV property. A donation by Pam and Jeff Hippler in 2020 allowed UKV to obtain a professional structural engineering report on the Manse property. Following that report, plans began for renovations to that property which were carried out the following year. Seven trees were removed from the front of the manse and beside the parking lot for safety and to stop the Sycamore roots from further cracking the foundation wall in the manse. Barbie Dallman spearheaded renovations
and repairs to the manse, including a new roof, windows and HVAC system as well as extensive cleaning and interior upgrades.
Laura Wellstead and Alexa Pack became Prayer Chaplains in 2020, followed by Beth Loflin and Sally Snyder in 2022. Reverend L.L. Burt’s training is now online, and members may take it to become Prayer Chaplains or may study under someone who has had the training and agrees to use the course materials. UKV offers prayer chaplain training once a year for any member who would like to join our team. This training is also attended by the current Prayer Chaplains as a refresher for their original training. Prayer chaplains at Unity receive additional training each month, led by Sharon Mullins, and make a commitment for one year to serve in the program. Each signs a confidentiality agreement to keep any member’s disclosures private.
The board agreed to allow the Prayer Chaplains to convert the old nursery into a Prayer Room in 2022 so we would have a dedicated space to make our prayer calls to the members of UKV. Special thanks to Barbie Dallmann, Peggy Gunter, and Deb Meredith for helping with the nuts and bolts of accomplishing this task. The Prayer Chaplains pitched in and donated various items to beautify the room.
By 2022 the work on the manse was completed. UKV renamed the building Unity House and leased the property as a home. While work ensued on the manse, the church and surrounding property also continued to receive upgrades. A new Unity of Kanawha Valley sign was installed on the stone pad at the corner of Bridge and Myrtle roads in 2021. New canvas awnings were installed above the doors at the Activity Room and the Meditation Room, thanks to donations from Patricia Richmond, The Gettman Family and The Dallmann/Walker Family. The entire activity building was painted; the ground level windows of the sanctuary were repaired and painted; and a new solid wood fire exit door was installed on the meditation room during that year.
With a growing level of comfort that the pandemic was coming under control, UKV resumed live services in our sanctuary and rented the downstairs space in 2022 to Vandalia Community School, a developing private school in Charleston.
In 2023 the Prayer Chaplain program established an email system whereby members may request, in confidence, an affirmative prayer. Members can request that their concerns be shared with the larger membership or held only with a Prayer Chaplain. A prayer request may also be shared with Sky and the Board. Also in that year, with the generous gifts of many congregants, we were able to install new windows and drapes in the downstairs activity room and to repave the driveway, adding parking lines so that more cars could be safely accommodated.