A group of Church Women United members prepare dishes for one of the Lenten Luncheons, held on March 21 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lake City. [Tyler Anderson/The Graphic-Advocate]
Tyler Anderson
Editor, The Graphic-Advocate

Lake City’s Church Women United observe double anniversaries

This past month, the Church Women United of Lake City celebrated not one, but two unique anniversaries.

Not only did the local organization observe the 50th anniversary of Lenten Luncheons, but it will also mark the 80th anniversary of the group itself. 

Around noon on several Mondays within the month of March and early April, the collection of ladies gather at either Woodlawn Christian Church, Lake City Union Church, Pilgrim Lutheran Church or St. Mary’s Catholic Church for a 10 to 15 minute service and the signature lunch afterwards. 

Compared to the past two years, they were finally able to congregate and celebrate their faith, no matter the denomination. 

Starting on March 4 with their annual World Day of Prayer service, which took place in the dining hall of Woodlawn Christian Church. The 23 attendees came together for the first time since 2019, engaging in an hour long program.

The message of the program was exile and the return from it, and the women shared how the COVID-19 pandemic changed gatherings and church services. The women also relayed how they adapted to the challenge, and charted their life journeys.

Just like anyone else, there were peaks and valleys – exiles and returns from those tough times.

One of those people who led the service was Marylyn Gillespie. Her overall message was this – “through it all, God remained faithful.”

Having been with the unit since 1971, Gillespie reflected on how the Lenten Luncheons came to be.

“I became involved when the Lenten Luncheons were first proposed,” Gillespie said. “This was during a time when there was still a divide between Christian denominations, particularly between Protestants and Catholics.”

Despite differing nuisances with being a Methodist, a Lutheran, a Catholic or a Baptist, it was about bringing everyone together through their mutual faith in Jesus Christ.   

“Bringing the various Protestant churches and the Catholics together was rather ‘out-there’ thinking,” Gillespie said of the initial proposal. “Then, it began and the attendance was outstanding. I find it amazing that it has continued to this day with success each year during Lent.” 

“It’s not all about the meal,” Gillespie added. 

The local unit of Church Women United began with just six Lake City and Auburn religious houses (Woodlawn Christian, United Methodist; Catholic; Baptist; Lake City Presbyterian and Auburn Presbyterian), before evolving to its current composition of Lake City and Lanesboro.

Through the years, the group has been well documented. 

According to the history of the group, “the host church was to be responsible for the devotions and food in their turn, and there was to be no charge.”

When it began, headed up by Mrs. Von Pierce, the menu was set as a casserole, salad, rolls, coffee and tea. There were no desserts or table decorations.

In 1972, the luncheons began to be conducted at the Lake City Community Memorial Building, and attendance swelled to 250 people. By 1976, the luncheons dipped down from six to five gatherings.

There was a move to a salad luncheon, according to Gillespie, but the hot casserole was brought back in 1981.

Lanesboro officially joined in 1982, when Louise O’Tool, Kathy Baker and Jan Snyder joined the board. Today, they are current board members alongside Miriam Hight, who joined in 1984.

Even in 2002, the Lenten Luncheons held “excellent” programs and attendance.

However, the group’s history dates further than the Lenten Luncheons.

The Iowa State Council of Federated Church Women began life in 1935, before the local unit was created in 1942. A decade later, the group would host its inaugural World Day of Prayer, which was held at the Lake City Presbyterian Church.

In 1954, the mayor of Lake City proclaimed March 5 as a world day of prayer. The Church Women United unit now observes the first Friday of March as the World Day of Prayer.

Within the unit’s schedule, there were three celebrations over the course of the calendar year. However, the organization narrowed down its slate to just the World Day of Prayer, due to low attendance from the May and November celebrations.

The group has gone beyond that of celebrations, from volunteer taxi services to hosting movies for senior citizens. Other endeavors included, purchasing books for Stewart Memorial Community Hospital and the Lake City Public Library to sending a letter of protest to Nestle, preparing a float for the Western Days parade and a “Meals on Wheels” program.

The Church Women United also supported many local charities and provided donations to the Lake City Food Pantry, the Christmas Benefit Committee, youth groups, a hospice and The Kids Spot daycare facility.

In 2023, the group – who had held celebrations at Shady Oaks Care Center – now aims to return to the retirement home in 2023.

Being there and doing that, Gillespie has mostly seen it all. To Marylyn, the group has brought many great memories and lifelong friends.

“Due to holding a seat on the board for many years, and acting as Program Chairman quite a few of those years, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many women in the Lake City, Auburn, Lanesboro community, and have made wonderful friendships,” Gillespie said. “Going through the old records to compile this history has stirred up great memories. We work to enrich the lives of the senior citizens of our community when I was in my 30s. It was a broadening experience and now that I am a senior citizen, I certainly appreciate the other side of that coin.”   

Lastly, Marylyn is grateful for the unit’s first half-century and looks forward to seeing it continue for another 50 years through charity and fellowship.

“Because of the free will offerings at the Lenten Luncheons, the unit has been able to donate to many local charities that serve senior citizens, children and teens and the underprivileged of our neighborhood,” said Gillespie. “I feel blessed to have taken part.”   


The Graphic-Advocate

The Graphic-Advocate 
121 North Center St.
Lake City, IA 51449
Phone: 712-464-3188

Mid-America Publishing

This newspaper is part of the Mid-America Publishing Family. Please visit for more information.