Shown is the Old Rugged Cross Church in Pokagon, Mich. Photo provided.
Shown is the Old Rugged Cross Church in Pokagon, Mich. Photo provided.
WINONA LAKE – Robert and Molly Shaffer, the prime movers behind the purchase and restoration of the “Old Rugged Cross Church” in Pokagon, Mich., will give a public presentation on the restoration project at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in the East Dining Room of Westminster Hall, 105 Ninth St., Winona Lake.

The meeting is free and open to the public. The program is sponsored by the Winona History Center of Grace College and by the Esther Pfleiderer Charitable Trust at 1st Source Bank.

The Shaffers are principals in The Old Rugged Cross Foundation Inc. (ORCF), a non-profit group dedicated to completing the restoration of The Original Old Rugged Cross Church where the final version of Rev. George Bennard's hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" was first sung publicly in 1913 during a revival.

Robert Shaffer and his wife, Molly, purchased the deteriorated church/barn from a private owner in 1998, and formed the non-denominational Old Rugged Cross Foundation Inc. Their goal was to save the building from imminent collapse, and to restore it to its previous 1875-1914 church era appearance. Shaffer worked as a volunteer laborer on each phase of the restoration for 21 years as project director. He currently takes care of maintenance of the buildings and grounds.

Molly, in addition to serving as the foundation’s secretary/treasurer, spends the majority of her time fundraising, giving tours and presentations to various churches and civic groups, as well as the general public. She schedules all events promoting the restoration project. She recently published a book, “The Old Rugged Cross Lives On,” which details the history of the church, the hymn and its composer. The book includes more than 500 pictures and stories related to the historic preservation efforts to save the building and its history.

The gospel song “The Old Rugged Cross” was composed by Bennard and was subsequently acquired by the noted Winona Lake-based music publisher Homer Rodeheaver. It quickly became one of Rodeheaver’s best-known and most-loved properties, used in the Billy Sunday evangelistic crusades and also recorded by Rodeheaver and Virginia Asher, according to a news release. Recorded on nine different labels between the years 1920 and 1925, the song sold more than a million copies of the recording, according to Rodeheaver.

The Oct. 26 presentation by the Shaffers will include a question-and-answer time from the public, and the program will conclude with the NoName Quartet singing a version of “The Old Rugged Cross.” Light refreshments and a visiting time in the lobby will follow, and the Winona History Center museum, also located in Westminster Hall, will be open for browsing, as well.

For more information, contact the Winona History Center by website, Facebook or at 574-372-5193.