Church Choir Director Retires after 73 Years of Service

By Rick Wolcott*

Juanita Woods with Cake

“You are our ‘Shining Star!’”

Those words, written on balloons in the Greentown United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) fellowship hall, express the congregation’s love for Juanita Woods.

Friends and family gathered after the final service of 2017 for a reception to celebrate Woods’ retirement as choir director, a position she has held on and off for 73 years.

Raised Lutheran, Woods joined the choir at what was then Greentown Methodist Church shortly after she was married because her husband had family members who were active in the church.  Thus began a life of service that, over the years, has led Woods to be, among other roles, choir director, children’s choir director, camp counselor, junior church leader, Sunday school teacher, and Bible study facilitator.

Juanita speaking“This church has filled my life,” Woods said.  “I’ve always felt needed.  I’ve never felt I’ve been anybody special, I really haven’t.  I’m here to do things and if there’s things to do, I do them.”

“I’ve been in the choir ever since I can remember but I also remember Juanita being my camp counselor, she was my junior high youth leader, and she directed my children in junior choir,” said Carol Lavy.  “I just can’t imagine being 94 years old and still doing the ministry she is doing!  She’s our backbone.  We are blessed.”

“Juanita’s a special person and a strong leader.  It’s more than just music that she has taught.  She’s taught Jesus and lived Jesus for the people.” Pastor Carolyn Nichols said.  “When I came here last year and was told we had a 93 year-old choir director, I started looking for a 93 year-old woman and I never found her.”

George Manos can attest to that!  He says it’s hard keeping up with his mother-in-law.

“We’re from Pittsburgh and one day I couldn’t get her on the phone at home so I kept calling.  Finally, she answered and I said, ‘Mom, where’ve you been?’ She said, ‘Well I was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Wal-Mart.’ I said, ‘Mom, you’re 94!’ and she said, ‘yeah, so what?’”

Director singing“In my mind I don’t think I’m 94,” Woods said.

After singing a solo during her final service as choir director, Woods joined her daughter, Karen Manos, and Nichols at the front of the church for a brief celebration of her many years of service.

Manos told the congregation that as children she and her sister grew up playing in the church basement as their mother held choir practice upstairs.  She later sang with her mom in the Canton Civic Opera for 30 years.

“Music should have been Mother’s middle name,” she said.

Juanita with Pastor and daughter“We love you Juanita not just for the music over all these years but also for your love, the way you have cared for the children that you taught to sing and the adults that you have been with through Sunday school and Bible study, and the way you have touched so many lives,” Nichols said.

“I feel speechless,” said Woods before blowing a kiss of appreciation to the congregation.

Her final act as choir director was leading worshippers in singing Happy Birthday to organist Steve Dallas, a long-time friend who will succeed Wood, and will now serve as her choir director.

“Speaking for the choir, we’ll be mighty glad that she’s going to be singing with us,” said Sherryl Kostolich.

“She’s a special lady,” Dallas said.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Congregation Thanks Those Working on Christmas Eve

By Rick Wolcott*

On Sunday, December 24, Garfield Memorial Church (North Coast District)  cancelled the Mosaic multi-ethnic praise and worship experience at its Pepper Pike and South Euclid locations to distribute 300 dozen donuts to people who had to work on the holiday.

“We want them to know that even though they’re working on Christmas Eve day, the last place you probably want to be, you’re not forgotten.  Christmas says that God doesn’t forget us,” said Lead Pastor the Rev. Chip Freed.

“Today is about, and has been, and really is what we do here at Garfield is blanket the city in love,” said Outreach Coordinator Nikki Froehlich.  “We’ve been reaching out to people any way we can to bring them to church and bring them closer to Jesus.”

That meant taking church out of the building and into the businesses around both Garfield Memorial Church campuses to thank people for their service, offer them a sweet treat, and invite them to Christmas Eve service.

The church rented out the 1,100 seat Notre Dame College Performing Arts auditorium so that parishioners from both campuses could invite others to join them in worshipping under one roof.

“We said ‘blanket the city, stitch the world back together in love,’ we think that’s what Jesus did and we’re trying to follow Him,” Freed said.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

A Sweet Way to Learn About Jesus


By Rick Wolcott*

A chance to walk through Peppermint Forest and along the Ice Cream Sea attracted 365 children of all ages to Vienna United Methodist Church (Mahoning Valley District) the weekend before Christmas for a chance to play a life-size version of Candy Land.

Players colored their own gingerbread game piece, collected their game cards, and made their way to the start square.  One-by-one, they took turns drawing a card and moving to the corresponding colored rectangle on the floor.  Along the way, they collected candy from Gumdrop Mountains, Lollipop Woods, and many other sweet attractions.

The goal for players was to reach the Candy Castle.  There, Santa Claus, seated next to a manger, told children the story of the candy cane and talked to them about who Jesus is.

“I think this is beautiful.  It’s awesome the amount of work that was put into it,” said Jen Farr, who came to Candy Land with friends.

Pastor Mary Prior said that the idea for the life-size game came three years ago during a conversation with Music Director Rachel Spak.

“We were saying that people don’t come to cantatas anymore and they’re really not interested in Christmas programs.  Rachel came up with this idea and I said, ‘go for it!’”

“I saw something similar at a library a few years before that and thought it would be fun to do at the church,” Spak said.  “It’s been awesome getting a lot of different people here because most of them are not church members.”

“Offering a quality event at no charge during a very expensive season has been our best means of outreach,” Prior said.  “Parents were very appreciative that the Candy Land experience was free, and thanks to TV coverage this year, we’ve had people come from areas of Warren and Youngstown as well as from closer to the church.”

Now in its third year, Vienna UMC Candy Land continues to reach the unchurched.

“We heard a little girl and her mom talking as they were walking out,” Prior said.  “The mom asked the girl, ‘What did you learn?  What did you like?’ and the little girl said, ‘I learned that Jesus died for my sins.’  Isn’t that cool?”

“My son is 4 years old and he is just starting to discover the beauty of Christmas and learn about what it means,” said Angela Betrosky. “I saw the ad and just had to bring him.  It’s been great to be here today.”

“This is fun.  I like it,” said 9 year-old Zoey.

“My wife and daughter go to church here and I know Pastor Mary from out and about because she does a lot of stuff in the community and with the schools, so I came here today to support them,” said Tarin Brown.  “It’s great to see so many people who don’t go to church here come to take part in this.  It means a lot to the community.”

“I’m proud of Vienna for being a church that constantly seeks new ways to connect with its community so it can share the love of Christ,” said Mahoning Valley District Superintendent the Rev. Abby Auman, who brought her family to experience Candy Land.  “Volunteers clearly poured a tremendous amount of effort into making a magical experience for kids, which feels like love when you walk into a transformed fellowship hall.”

“It’s been a breath of fresh air in the church because people are working together while doing something different and something new.  We have a young adult in charge who empowered everyone to be creative and to do their own thing,” Prior said.

Spak said sketching the layout and planning how to construct each of the lands begins in early November but because fellowship hall is used so much the construction window is very tight each year.

“We’ve had about 15 people here each day the past two weeks making sure everything would get done,” she said.

Prior said the labor is not done just by members of the congregation.

“The other churches in town help us promote Candy Land.  We all work hard together to bring new people to Christ through church.”

Plans are already underway to add Rock Candy Canyon to the life-size Candy Land game in 2018.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.