History of the UUCOC
As we look forward to our next 60 years, enjoy a look back at our history.
Highlights of our history:
May 2, 1961 – 30 Members sign Charter application
May 15, 1961 – Charter received from UUA
September 10, 1961 – First service 1029 North Zang
May 31, 1964 – Dedication of first building 3839 W. Kiest
September 13, 1964 – First services 3839 W. Kiest (Hope building)
September 1968 – Second building added (Charity)
Fall 1983 – Third building (Faith) erected
The UU Fellowship of Dallas (also called Oak Cliff UU Fellowship) was the very first Unitarian Universalist society, coming into existence on the very day of the merger between the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America in 1961. In April of 2003 we changed our name to Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff.
From September 1977 until August 1985 we were involved in the UUA "Extension Program of Shared Ministries" with Reverend William P. Holway (now Hamilton-Holway), Reverend Robert L. Hill, and Reverend Frank W. Carpenter. In the spring of 1985, we entered into a Shared Ministerial Agreement with the Denton UUF to jointly search for our first called minister. Reverend Suzanne Meyer was called by both fellowships in January 1986, and began a joint ministry with us in March 1986. When Rev. Meyer went to New Orleans in August 1988, we again joined with Denton to search for our second called minister. Reverend Dr. Donald H. Fielding began a joint ministry with us in August 1990 and served until he retired in September 2003.
An interim lay ministry was begun by member Mark Walz on October 1, 2003. Mark became our full-time minister in November 2004 and was officially installed on April 3, 2005 as Reverend Mark Walz.
We've been at our present location since the mid-1960s. We're located in a beautifully wooded area that has slowly grown into a "campus" of buildings. Our membership of approximately 100 continues to grow and serve the surrounding area through a variety of means, including renting or otherwise making our facilities available to the community.
"In discipline of Truth, irrespective of its source, and in the spirit of Universal Brotherhood, undivided by nation, race or creed, we unite in fellowship to pursue and to practice individually and collectively, the principles of the liberal religious faith."
- Our original statement of purpose, written by Harry Jones and adopted at the meeting when we voted to apply for a charter.
In honor of our 50th Anniversary, founding member Elaine Wildman assembled a series of notes on our history:
Leading up to our 60th Anniversary Celebration on May 23rd, 2021, we highlighted moments in our church history!
Fall of 1950
At the suggestion of the Reverend Bob Raible of First Unitarian Church, members who lived in Oak Cliff held monthly Sunday evening potluck suppers in various homes starting in the fall of 1950 to get acquainted with each other and discuss the idea of forming a Fellowship in Oak Cliff.
It was a daring thing to do. We had to decide whether we could handle RE classes for the children on our own without the benefit of Ruth Clark’s guidance (she was First Church RE Director), could we conduct Sunday services for the adults that would be satisfactory? Could we locate a place to meet and raise enough money to pay the rent and utilities?
We finally decided it was worthwhile and possible. Meeting in a garage/studio on South Hampton we voted to form, elected a slate of officers, and adopt a statement of purpose. On May 2nd, in a meeting room of Oak Cliff Bank, 31 members signed the charter asking to become officially recognized as a Unitarian congregation.
On May 15th at a national meeting, the Unitarian and Universalist Associations voted to merge the two denominations. Bob Raible persuaded them to put the acceptance of our charter at the head of the list of applications, and we became the first chartered Unitarian Universalist Association.
Over the summer, a vacant rental house at 1029 North Zangs, near Lake Cliff Park, was located and renovated (cleaning, repainting, acoustic shells added), all work done by the enthusiastic members. Children’s classrooms would be on the second floor. One week before the opening date in September, the city building inspector announced that we could not use the second floor for gatherings as it did not have adequate fire protection, so some hasty plans were made to have classes in a room adjacent to the sanctuary which made for a noisy background.
Opening the Sunday after Labor Day in 1961, the first Sunday attendance was: Church School 28, Adult Service 35. First year budget was $4,454. Noting a deserted building next door, some leaders tracked down the owner and convinced him that it would be to his advantage to let us use and maintain it rather than let it stay vacant, so we acquired the use of another dirty, more run down building for RE classes. We cleaned it but did not do any renovations and did not have any utilities there (no heat) but were happy to be able to expand a bit.
Forming a "Real" Church
Carl Brandner served as the first president of the Oak Cliff UU Fellowship.
We wanted to be a real church, so everything was set up in a formal style. We ladies wore our Sunday best dresses and the men wore ties and sometimes hats. But we did decide from the beginning that there would be no pressure on the kids to dress up. They came in their jeans and play clothes so they could participate in any activities their teachers (or they) dreamed up. I don’t remember if we had printed orders of service, but we followed one carefully. At first we relied on sermons sent from UUA which members (always men) read. They couldn’t resist commenting on them and that was often the most interesting part of the message, so after a while we relied on our own resources. It was about a year before a woman (Patty Brandner) took the pulpit.
During 1962, two babies were born into the group and Bob Raible came over to hold a special child dedication ceremony for Lisa Wildman and Lori Sloan. Ruth Clark, RE Director at First Church, continued to guide our program, supplying us with kits for teaching the classes and inviting us to join their teacher training workshops.
As we looked to build a permanent home, Jim Lyons located the current land, and we took a bold step to purchase the beautiful five acres. One third of the property was used for grazing horses and had a barn – a building that was the original Five Mile church whose cemetery is on the east side of our land.
Borrowing money was impossible since no bank would believe we were a real church worthy of a loan. “Who is your minister?” With the help of a financial advisor from First Church, we set up a bond program and sold these to ourselves and some supporting UU friends. Members were asked to take money from their long-term savings and we pledged among ourselves to repay them (with interest) within 10 years. We also negotiated a larger loan from the Veach fund of the UUA and those payments were part of our budget for many years. On March 31, 1964, we held a dedication service for the new building, now known as Hope.
When we moved out to Kiest Boulevard, we enjoyed the beauty of the land. Several services were held outside, RE classes more often . . . sometimes in a tree house. Other outdoor activities were overnight camping, fireside Halloween parties, picnics and general exploring the grounds. It was 1969 when the women’s movement showed its influence, and Patty Brandner was elected the first woman president.
Our First Service On W. Kiest
The first service at 3839 West Kiest was held on September 13, 1964, with president Sam Faris in the pulpit to discuss the Fellowship and its future. In attendance were 51 children in the nursery and five classes with 10 adults as teachers, 30 other adults, attending the service Church School started at 10:30 and adults socialized over coffee from 10:30-11:00 when the formal service began.
During that first year we had many guest speakers: Willard Johnson, Director of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee; Manuel Holland, candidate for First Church minister’s position; Charles Braden, retired chairman of Northeastern Department of Religion; Dr. Milton Curry, Bishop College president; Rev. Philip Schug and Russell Lockwood, Unitarian minister and District Director; and artists Heri Bert Bartscht (sculptor) and Chapman Kelley. Members presented programs on topics such as civil rights, computers, the spirit of Christmas, and a wide range of other topics. A high school group from Temple Emanuel shared a Hanukah Service.
We were still busy getting the place in shape: planting trees and laying grass sod. All work was done by members on a volunteer basis. Families took turns – about every four to six weeks – to come over and clean the building every Saturday.
Service was much a part of the overall program. A committee on Ethics and Social Action was formed and a discussion series was held on “Controversial Religious Problems.” For the second year the children brought mittens for a Mitten Tree to be passed on to children in need. Members were active in the campaign against block busting in Singing Hills, helping to encourage and support the white families who planned to stay as the neighborhood was integrated. Another group was active with LEAD, the League for Educational Advancement in Dallas which eventually helped elect Sam Faris to DISD Board of Trustees. A group joined others from First Church to organize the Dallas Area Memorial Society which has evolved into the Funeral Consumers Alliance of North Texas.
We held quarterly Parish Meetings on week nights with no child care provided. There were so many details to continue to settle that a special called meeting was held in the spring. For the first time, the slate of officers presented for vote included only one name for president though all others had two choices.
And we had fun. Everyone gathered for our third shared Thanksgiving Dinner, picnics were held on the grounds, parties in each others’ homes included everyone. One Sunday, Junior LRY made doughnuts which they sold to raise money for other ventures.
Among the First Church supporters of our new fellowship was Major Alexander Bujalsky. He was titled “Major” as a result of his flying career in World War II. He was a Pole who flew for the Royal Air Force, piloting fighter planes against the German Luftwaffe. After the war, Bujalsky came to this country and settled in Dallas to ply his trade as a stockbroker.
Painting and ‘junkyard’ sculptures were his hobbies. After our new building had been completed and dedicated (1964), Bujalsky presented the Fellowship with the sculpture which he called The Prophet. The sculpture was placed on a concrete pedestal just to the northeast of the old chapel. During services on Sunday mornings, one could see The Prophet through the north windows. The Prophet soon became an old friend to all of us on Sunday mornings.
After the completion of the new building in 1984, The Prophet was moved to its current location. This move was done on the spur of the moment one Saturday by Fred Lusk and Ernest Archer. The concrete base on which The Prophet now stands was later supplied by Edward Willimon. The original concrete pedestal was provided by former member Dick Harvey, a retired civil engineer who moved to Galveston.
Major Bujalski told me that the head and body of The Prophet had been the differential cover and drive shaft housing of a Model T Ford. The uplifted arms and shroud were made from odd pieces of scrap steel he found in a junkyard. The shroud was decorated with brazing rod. Bujalski was always insistent that we never paint or otherwise remove or cover the rust on The Prophet. He maintained that the rust is a vital part of the work.
Alexander Bujalski retired from the brokerage business and moved to Spain where he died.
- Sam Faris, May 1999
Does anyone remember the 60s?
The Civil Rights movement was strong in the UUA as well as the national group. In addition, a contentious issue at General Assembly was whether to approve the organization of a Black Affairs Council at the national level. Our congregation was involved because Clarence Huginnie, our first Black member, was an active proponent of this concept and represented us as a delegate at the national meeting. The issues involved were extensively covered in our newsletter, and the proposal was approved at the General Assembly. We continued to be active individually and as a group in many community affairs – participating in marches, signing petitions, and giving volunteer service. A group tutored students weekly at Community Baptist Church (in a Black neighborhood) and took over the delivery of Meals on Wheels to shut-ins during the Christmas holidays.
By 1968, we needed more classroom space for the church school. Stuart Todd, member and architect who had designed our original building, knew of an economical construction technique used for industrial buildings – pouring the concrete sides into molds on the ground and then raising them into position when hardened. We figured the amount we could afford and contracted for the building. Again, Stuart Todd refused the architectect’s fee. An economical heat pump was installed. We skipped the luxury of a water supply, but we were relieved to have more space. When it was opened in September of ’68, 56 children attended the first Sunday it was in use.
A wide range of topics were addressed on Sunday mornings: problems faced by the Amer-Asian children in Korea whose fathers had returned to the US; the meaning of Yom Kippur to Jewish congregations; goals for Dallas; as well as a variety of philosophical and entertaining topics covered by members.
Fellowship parties were frequent – Valentines, Christmas, Halloween as well as picnics and potlucks. Teens went on camping trips with their advisors — including one memorable January trip when water in their teapot froze overnight.
We joined with other NTAUUA congregations to establish an FHA housing project in Irving, Raible Place. For many years, Jim Lyons served on this board overseeing the building management, and Liz Loper was secretary. It was the eventual sale of this property in 2003 that created the endowment fund which NTAUUS uses for its yearly grants.
Our land was originally the site of Five Mile Baptist Church (their cemetery is still on our east side). In the western section, still fenced off for horses to graze, was a barn which was their original building. We stopped leasing the land for the horses and decided to pull down the barn as it was a hazard. On a sunny October Sunday in 1970, the barn downing was scheduled. Harry Jones’ tractor was the pulling force, but it took the truck motor and crowbar assistance from several hearty men to make the 114-year-old building collapse in a cloud of dust. Members took home souvenir square nails. A newel post was saved and turned into a tall candlestick which we used for years.
After the deaths of former president, George Loper, and five-year-old, Paul Wildman, memorial gifts were added to a tree fund and later incorporated into the Endowment Fund. A stipend for the Religious Director and fees for occasional ministers on Sunday mornings were added to the 1971 budget.
Earth Day was celebrated annually as we emphasized care for our planet. Members worked to support Sarah Weddington of First Church as she sued for a woman’s right to an abortion (Roe v. Wade). Legalization of marijuana, opposition to the Viet Nam War, and support for the United Farm Workers were some of the other social action causes undertaken in the early 70’s. Special recognition was given to the Fellowship for Meals on Wheels volunteering as Liz Loper was given special recognition for volunteer service there and at the Lighthouse for the Blind.
Over a 6-month period in 1972, we reviewed the innovative and frank Human Sexuality Course for teens developed by the UUA and, after a training session for all parents and other members, offered the 19-week course to our young people in the spring of 1973.
The $21,000 in bonds sold to buy our land were paid off early in 1972, and a mortgage burning ceremony was held. The 1972 General Assembly was held in Dallas (with Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame as a speaker), and we made our grounds available for attending teens who wished to camp out.
Esther Jones gathered pictures drawn by the children of beautiful and happy things and incorporated them into a mural painted on the side of the high school building. (After about 10 years, it was faded and scarred so it was painted over in a solid to match the other walls. We can locate no pictures of this early mural).
Among Sunday morning speakers were Ric Masten, the Unitarian Troubadour; Willard Johnson, Director of UU Service Committee, professors from Bishop College, SMU, and Dallas Community Colleges. In January of 1973, young Bob Cooper presented a defiant program challenging society’s restrictions and chastising everyone for accepting them.
More potlucks, picnics, and parties provided fun for hard-working members. Weekend, or longer, campouts including almost everyone were held at state parks for several years. And a food-buying Co-Op was formed in 1973.
Since we had no full-time minister and Texas state law allows the leader of a religious congregation to perform marriages, presidents Bob Tufte, Sam Faris, and Roz Pittman performed ceremonies for members.
Our 2nd Decade
The Oak Cliff Fellowship continued into its second decade with vigor. Among the Social Action causes were the Equal Rights Amendment, the Greater Dallas Housing Opportunity Center, Citizens for Sound Energy (anti-nuclear power plant), boycott of lettuce and Gallo wine in support of United Farm Workers, support of UUBAW (Black and White action), and the War Resisters’ League. One Sunday, a political prisoner from federal prison in Seagoville who had been caught in a McCarthy era witch hunt spoke from our pulpit. Continued participation in the Block Partnership Program, delivering Meals on Wheels, and helping to staff the Salvation Army Christmas Toy Store, and adopting Mark Twain Elementary in DISD’s Adopt a School program were some of the activities outside our own group.
And there was a lot of socialization . . . frequent potlucks, picnics and parties. Each year, usually over Easter and sometimes in the fall, half the congregation would go camping at one of the nearby state parks. The teens were taken on their own camping excursions by their leaders. A Tree House, built in 1977, was enjoyed by all the children and some adults. An RE class or two was held in it on sunny days.
Carl Branin contributed the first $75 to a fund known as the "Carl Branin Good Works Fund" to be used for families who needed help or short-term loans. Various activities and contributions added to this fund so that it usually hovered around $300.
Among the guest speakers were Russ Lockwood (UUA District Manager who came annually), Dr. Milton Curry (Bishop College President), Ned Fritz (leading Texas environmentalist), Lucy Patterson (Dallas' first Black council person), John Wolfe (Tulsa All Souls Church), and Ric Masten (the Unitarian ministerial troubadour).
In 1977, prompted by UUA staff, we began discussions on whether we wanted a minister. The UUA offered to select a minister for us and to pay part of the cost for one-third ministerial services. The parish agreed to the concept (with 6 nay votes). In the fall of 1977, we began to share Bill Holoway with UUF North (Richardson) and Jefferson Church (Fort Worth). During the first year, this added $4,300 to our budget.
Ties to the UUA were strong with participation in NTAUUS workshops. Joan Goodwin of the UUA conducted a Goal Setting workshop.
In 1978, there was a major schedule change to allow teachers to come to the adult service. RE continued to start at 10am, and an Adult Forum was also scheduled at that time. At 11am, during the adult service, there were creative activities for the children's mixed age group. On one Sunday in 1978, attendance was:
- RE Classes: 28 children and 8 adults
- Forum: 17 attendees
- Creative Activities: 18 children and 3 adults
- Adult Service: 38 attendees
Expansion & Donuts
In May of 1980, Bill Holoway left to take a position with the UUA. Bob Hill was appointed our minister, and he served Arlington and College Station as well.
With the increased cost of ministerial services and the hope that we could build a larger sanctuary, we organized a number of fundraising activities. Service auctions offered everything from flying lessons, sailboat rides, wine tasting, and dinners to babysitting services and window washing. These raised between $1,500 and $2,100. A Minnesota friend of Sally Jones operated a Lil “O” Donuts Booth at the State Fair from 1981-86. We staffed the booth for five years, earning a total of over $8,500. Everyone who participated in the project enjoyed it ̶̇̇ a social as well as fundraising activity. Spring and Fall garage sales were another fundraising project. Each one brought in between $1,000 and $2,000.
In 1981, we arranged a 5% loan from the Veatch Fund of the UUA for $136,240. No payment were due for the first three years which was when our first loan would be paid off. This enabled us to plan for a larger building which we moved into in the fall of 1983. Still a "hands on" fellowship operation, we did much of the grunt work to save money. Most of the membership was on hand to lay the tiles. You have never seen so many Unitarians on their knees!
A Women’s discussion group began in the early ‘80s which developed into the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF). This group met for potluck meals and took on fundraising projects to purchase new chairs or other special items. Among the special interest groups during the 80s was a Camera Club, a Weight Control group, Disarmament Study group, Jazzercise, and Sunday evening volleyball (The Fighting Chiggers). A member who worked for a travel agency led 18 of our members on a 10-day trip to Mexico.
Early Unitarian Churches usually closed during the summer. Even First Church in Dallas only held informal services during the summer. We didn’t hold regular services from June until after Labor Day. Sunday morning picnics were popular, but Bob Hill pointed out that a visitor might show up and never come back if the place was locked up. So in 1982, we began holding summer services ̶̇̇ more casual and with no scheduled RE. When we had been away for the summer, the ingatherings were especially joyous. In 1987, the Calhouns hosted the 9th annual late August potluck.
Bob Hill accepted a position with the UUA and the Extension Ministry selected Frank Carpenter to fill the gap. He came in the fall of 1982, serving Arlington, Denton, and Oak Cliff. In 1984, Earle Ramsdell wrote the Hymn to Nature found at the back of our hymnbooks. Copyright was assigned to Oak Cliff Unitarian Fellowship. In 1986, Gloriann Mulligan was hired as a pianist. Tom Wellman, whose class was studying famous Unitarians, designed a second mural with their portraits for the youth building, and the boys painted it as a summer project in 1987.
Taking a detour from roughly chronological writing, this note will point out special markers that can be tied to individuals.
Our music would not be as rich without the grand piano that once belonged to Liz Loper. Liz and her husband, George, were charter members of the Fellowship who worked in many areas to make it a success. In addition to serving as president, George often played his violin and Liz played her cello. Liz edited the weekly newsletter for many years and for many more years was the one who organized the weekly folding, stamping, and mailing. She put her fine piano in the church on loan, had it tuned twice a year, covered it to protect its finish and arranged for the wheels for moving. It was considered a loan, but when she finally determined that none of her grandchildren wanted to use it, the valuable instrument was given to the church.
We celebrate the Labyrinth in the name of our coffee house, but it has a long history. In 1999, Sally Jones led workshops to introduce us to the idea of having a labyrinth, planned its size and layout. She and Dee Lewis laid out the pattern on the west parking lot, Wayne Finley and Harry Jones scouted the likely spot in the woods. Mike Jones and others joined the party that cleared the brush and laid out the pattern. Rocks were gathered and it finally became a reality. It was advertised as open to the public and moonlight walks were sponsored at Full Moon, with Hope building open for coffee and visiting. Sally Jones was the driving force behind the garage sales and the Lil-O-Donut fundraising project. She also checked the buildings frequently to clean the kitchens and worked with Mike to keep the Labyrinth weeded until their move to the Washington, DC area. In fact, she did so many things to keep things going that Don Fielding devised a special Sally Jones award which she kept for one year and which was passed on annually to a member who had contributed unusual efforts.
The metal symbol of circles, chalice, and oak leaf at the front of the sanctuary reflects several members. Harry Jones designed the original and crafted one when we moved out to the Kiest property. The larger, crafted by a metal artist, was put up in memory of John Preston after his death. John was an Englishman who came here with his wife, Pat, after WW II. He demonstrated the value of lifetime learning. With the British minimal education (about 8th grade), he spent Saturday afternoons in the library and could answer questions about history, obscure laws or anything else. He taught himself Italian to prepare for an overseas trip. Pat asked if the money contributed to the Endowment Fund in his memory could be used to put the chalice design on the wall as the blank (then white) space was too boring. The endowment committee agreed.
Repeating an earlier mention, the pulpit was the one used by Rev. Bob Raible at First Church for many years, rescued from a back closet by Harry Jones and repaired and refinished by Jim Klipp.
In Loving Memory
Several trees and other sites commemorate individuals. To the left of the Faith entrance is a magnolia tree planted shortly after we bought our property. Liz Loper and her family planted it in memory of S. Gus Alexander Jr., the husband of Kathy Loper Alexander (now Kathy Smith) who was killed in combat in Vietnam.
The next memorial tree is the one to the right of the entrance to Hope. This was planted in 1983 for Bobby Vaughn, a popular teacher of our teens.. In the area between the west parking lot and Faith is a post oak tree (currently about 3” diameter) titled Founders’ Oak. It was dedicated to our charter members in 2003 as it replaced several taken down in a severe windstorm. There was another smaller Texas White Bud tree planted in memory of Georgie Phillips, a faithful generous member on the approach to the labyrinth.
The framing around the front sign Transforming lives through compassion and action/ Conscience of Oak Cliff is from a carefully carved sign that said Oak Cliff Fellowship created for us by artist Greg Metz shortly before he moved to be nearer his position as UTD faculty member. A year later we voted to change our name to Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff and the carving was removed. Greg helped in our RE classes and worked with one class to make plaster face masks. In 2006, Nick Guman built the brickwork around the flower garden to the right of the front door of Faith and repaired the concrete table that was another memorial as an Eagle Scout service project.
This land has been used in a variety of ways. For many years, Harry Jones cut, maintained, and mapped trails. Halloween Party attendees sat on logs around a campfire while Leona Anderson read The Telltale Heart. Some of our children enjoyed a weekend campout, and north of our parking lot, an organic garden survived for two years.
In the early 90s, Glenda Brandner honored her Native American roots by making it possible for some Lakota Indians to build a sweat lodge in a wooded area on the western section of our land. It was temporary – put up for healing ceremonies when a leader came to the area and was taken down each time in a manner that honored the ritual. Later, Bernard Ice, an Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge, conducted several ceremonies. Currently a group from First Church conducts sweats in another lodge built on the same location. Glenda arranged a memorable evening meeting for some of the Code Talkers who helped win WWII to share their experience with our community,
Have you looked at the mural our children designed and painted on the side of Charity? This was orchestrated by Cheryl Johnson and Susan Ammons in 2001 as the children completed a study of world religions and chose pictures and phrases to represent them. It is the third mural on this site. In the early 70s, Esther Jones invited all the children to draw pictures of things they liked, then they selected the group favorites, and Esther helped the children paint the pictures on the wall. When the artwork faded, it was painted over. In 1987, Tom Wellman helped the boys in his class paint a mural representing famous Unitarians they had been studying. Again, after many years it, too, was faded and damaged so the wall was returned to solid color paint.