Caspar Garrigues

No. 11

The name of Caspar Garrigues is largely forgotten by our congregation today.  Yet he was minister of this church for seven years, during which our church underwent some of the severest strains we have experienced since the 1870s.  He came to Iowa City at age 60 in 1931, after an illustrious career mostly in Missouri, where he had been general secretary of the Missouri Christian Missionary Society for 11 years.  He left in 1938 for reasons of health after seven years of rigorous and exhausting work for the church and the community.  Despite falling membership, plummeting attendance and shriveling income, he kept the church focussed on its real mission: service to the community and a living witness to the unity of all of God’s people, despite wide differences.  He was involved in almost every important aspect of service to Iowa City, from the Iowa City Council of Christian Education to the Iowa City Peace Council, to the  board of the Community Chest.  He served on university boards and committees concerned with student activities and community relations.   He helped in the creation of an Inter-Faith Fellowship Council, which embraced Protestants, Catholics and Jews.

But perhaps the most unique project which Caspar Garrigues undertook in Iowa City was the organization of the Faith Cabin Library Club in 1937, whose purpose was to gather books for a black school in South Carolina which had no library.  The Faith Cabin Library movement was the brainchild of a young South Carolina man named Willie Buffington who had himself struggled with poverty to get an education.  Inspired by a black teacher who had befriended him, he conceived of the idea of appealing to northern churches to collect books for black schools in South Carolina, where books were almost non-existent.  His first modest request in 1932 for books for the school of his mentor and friend was met with an initial response of over 1000 books.

By the time Garrigues became aware of the program in 1936, at least seven libraries had been established by Buffington.  In January of 1937 Garrigues organized the Iowa City Faith Cabin Library Club, which consisted of representatives from eleven  Protestant churches, two Catholic churches, the Jewish community, the YMCA, the YWCA, the public library, the university library, the U of I School of Religion, Iowa City Women’s Club, Business and Professional Women’s Club, and numerous service and fraternal clubs, such as the Kiwanis, Elks and Lions.  Garrigues recruited virtually the entire Iowa City community in this effort.  The books were sent to the Bettis Academy, an impoverished black school in Edgefield, South Carolina.  The Academy, for its part, built a building using volunteer labor and donated materials to provide housing for the books.  Two shipments, totalling 6000 books and 1400 magazines were sent in 1937.  Another drive to collect books was mounted in 1938, and two more shipments were made.  In all, about 10,000 books, plus an unknown number of magazines were sent to Bettis Academy.  The report of the last shipment appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on December 7, 1938, along with the acknowledgement that without Garrigues (who had resigned in October) the library club could probably not be maintained, as indeed it was not.  To this day, the library at the Bettis Academy is referred to as the Iowa City Unit.