Caspar Garrigues, 2

No. 14

The Great Depression of the 1930s did not spare the churches. In First Christian Church for instance, membership dropped by 25%, while attendance frequently dipped below 100 on a Sunday morning. Giving to the church fell by 60%. The minister took a 30% cut in salary just to keep the doors open. It was a discouraging time for the church. We were fortunate to have at that time, a pastor who still saw many opportunities for service and ministry to the community and to the wider world. His name was Caspar Garrigues, and he shepherded the church through a bleak time, from 1931 to 1938. Caspar Garrigues had a distinguished career before he came to Iowa City. In addition to lengthy ministries in churches in St. Louis and Joplin, Missouri, he had served as general secretary of the National Benevolent Association for three years and general secretary of the Missouri Christian Missionary Society for eleven years. He was already sixty years old when he came to Iowa City, but rather than simply coast to retirement, he threw all his energies into the church and especially, the community. 126 persons became members of the church during his time, including one Irish immigrant boy, Peter Bannon, who was so inspired by the church and the minister that he became a missionary to China.

Garrigues was very active in the Iowa City community, and in the relations between the university and the city. He was a member of the university Committee on Religious Activities and the Commission on Campus Activities, as well as being an advisor to the Inter-Church Student Council. His activities in the community were broad. He was four times president of the Ministerial Association. He helped organize and was president for three years of the Inter-Faith Fellowship Council, consisting of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, the first truly inter-faith organization in Iowa City. He was also a member of the Iowa City Council of Christian Education and the Iowa City Peace Council, and served on the board of the Community Chest. He worked with the Oakdale Christian Union (tuberculosis sanitarium) and with the committee on jail meetings.

But the most unique project which Caspar Garrigues undertook in Iowa City was the organization of the Faith Cabin Library Club in 1937. With the support of the Ministerial Association, Garrigues organized the “Iowa City Faith Cabin Club”, 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. 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. 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.

When Garrigues left Iowa City, Willard Lampe, head of the School of Religion at the university, said: “No man in Iowa City has given himself more unsparingly or in such a variety of ways, to the religious and civic welfare of this community. He has carried responsibility in literally a multitude of good causes and his heart has reached out beyond all divisions of race, color or creed. He has dignified and exalted his calling, bringing inspiration constantly to those of us who are engaged in the same or similar work.”