Leaders receive funds to restore 130-year-old Buxton Church building to cultural center – Grand Forks Herald

BUXTON, ND — Leaders of a fundraising effort to save the Grue Lutheran Church in rural Buxton, North Dakota, have received a $44,900 grant from the American Scandinavian Foundation and 7 $500 from the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

Most funds will go to programming, not structural improvements.

The funds will boost the group’s ongoing efforts to transform the 130-year-old church, located 7 miles northeast of Buxton, into a cultural center and venue for events such as weddings, family reunions and occasional worship services.

The grant from the New York-based American Scandinavian Foundation will be used for public programs and community projects focused on Scandinavian folk arts and cultural traditions in the Upper Midwest, said Bobbi Hepper-Olson, president of the five project board members.

Hepper-Olson, from rural Buxton, and other board members have outlined plans for several events this year that are “linked to Scandinavia in one way or another”, a- she declared.

These events could include classes, workshops, performances, ancestors, folk parties, craft installations, lectures, community outreach activities and others.

American Scandinavian Foundation funds will be used for programming these events, but cannot be used for facility upgrades, Hepper-Olson said. “We are in a bit of a dilemma” in that the grant provides money to organize events, but not to restore the physical structure in which to hold them.

For the most urgent project, removing and replacing roof shingles, the group has raised approximately $20,000 and has approximately $16,000 in committed funds, towards its goal of $50,000. she noted. “So, we’re almost there. We hope that by spring we will have enough money to fix the roof and keep the water out – that’s the most important thing.

Although the building is “fairly structurally sound”, repairing the roof is “essential” to stopping water damage, said Hepper-Olson, an architect whose office is located in a 129-year-old bank building that she restored at Buxton.

Some of the funds provided by the state arts board were used to make some improvements inside the building, she said.

Bobbi Hepper-Olson, an architect from Buxton, is part of a group working to save the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grue, near Buxton. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Leaders of the Grue Church Project launched a GoFundMe website, www.gofundme.com/f/grue-church-project, to generate income for building restoration.

At 130 years old, Grue Lutheran Church is likely one of the oldest church structures in that area, Hepper-Olson said. Many were abandoned or destroyed as their congregations dwindled in size.

“It’s one of those things, we can’t save them all, and we can’t tear them all down,” Hepper-Olson said, reflecting on the church project as well as historic preservation in general. “We feel we have found a purpose to save (the church) and use it for cultural events, even if they are only a few times a year. We believe it is worth saving.

“Most of us who are involved, our families were among those 63 families who started the church. So I feel like it’s part of our heritage and our culture and our mission to be part of it.

“As an architect, I see so many of them being torn down — and I understand, if they’re no longer useful,” Hepper-Olson said. “It doesn’t take much to maintain them. You have to have a group that is ready to do that and I think we have a good group that is ready to do that. But we need help; we cannot do it by ourselves.

The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation in Grue closed in 2020, she said. “They were down to, I think, four or five working families. So what if you close it? In fact, they were literally within a month or two of the Grue Church fire. And we just hated to see that happen there.

Younger active members of the former congregation “have been extremely supportive and are more than willing to help us with whatever we need to do” for events and various projects at the church, she said.

“I think there are a lot of people who are willing to come forward and help,” but don’t necessarily have the time to get involved in the planning.

Leaders of the Grue Church Project are also encouraging locals planning family gatherings to consider scheduling them to coincide with Buxton Days, the date of which has yet to be set but is usually around the 4th July.

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