Niagara Gazette

December 23, 2013

HIGGS: Open the doors and see all the people

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Local people are a good part of my weekly visits with you and this time we will meet a couple of members at First Presbyterian Church.

Carl and Elisabeth Slenk have been members since 1988 after they returned to this area from their sojourn in Europe. Their early years were quite nomadic as Carl grew up in the Midwest, went to school in Boston, worked for two years at Linde Air and while living in Tonawanda he met Elisabeth who was a student at Buffalo State studying for a teaching degree. They married and moved to Boston where Carl returned to school. He found future employment at Carborundum Company so back to Western New York they came.

Somewhere along the way three children were added to the family. Later, Carl was transferred to Europe, and they lived in Dusseldorf, Germany, and Manchester, England. They returned in 1987 and after 27 years at Carborundum, he took an early retirement and they opened the Manchester House B & B on Main Street which they named after one of the early Niagara villages. Carl told me the Village of Manchester was so named as it was the beginning of industrialization in the area and was similar to its English namesake. Carl worked at Canisius High in finance, riding the Buffalo bus to and from and finally retired permanently about five years ago.

When they settled in they visited several churches for a year and joined the First Presbyterian. Elisabeth is chairperson of the Board of Deacons and a choir member. Carl maintains the church website at He also coordinates the church’s support of Habitat for Humanity and chairs the investment committee.

Elisabeth is also on the Board of the Friends of Niagara University Theatre, a singing member of the Lewiston Choraleers, and a charter member of a knitting circle in Lewiston. She currently keeps the tree in their front yard warm with different colored “sleeves” which seems to be catching on throughout the community. They are both members and supporters of the Niagara Beautification Commissions. Carl and Lis were regular volunteers when the Whirlpool Street guard rail was being painted under the watchful eyes of the Habitat for Humanity and the Commission, the project organizers. Carl says Lis spilled less paint than him and was far more dedicated to the painting job. Actually I do recall Carl’s speckled pants and shoes.

I asked for their thoughts on the historical significance of their church and Elizabeth responded. “As I worship in a place, I am always aware of those who have been there before me, and that adds to the serenity and sincerity of my worship. To sing, pray and praise in the oldest church in the city is a blessing and a privilege.” She also noted that while the worship service has become more contemporary, there are still ancient words being said and sung today. “That feeds my soul” she added. The current Pastor is Rev. David W. Crapnell who began his ministry here in 2009. He and his wife Lisa, reside in Niagara Falls.

Churches will be busy at this time of year with special services and celebrations of the birth of Jesus as it is “the reason for the season.” The gift giving part seems to dominate the days leading up to the actual date and probably began with the gifts from the “three kings” in the original religious story. Then along came Saint Nicholas and in particular his reputation as a bringer of gifts. relates the legend of St. Nicholas that can be traced back hundreds of years. Thought to have been born around 280 A.D. in Myra which is now Turkey, it is believed he gave away all of his inherited wealth, became a monk and helped the poor and the sick. He became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, Dec. 6 which became traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married.

During Renaissance times, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe even after the Protestant Reformation when he maintained a positive reputation especially in Holland. The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas derives from these legends. “Santa Claus” is itself derived in part from the Dutch Sinter klaas. Supposedly he made his way to America around the end of the 18th century when a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The idea of gift giving centered mainly on children and stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820 with newspapers prospering from their creation of separate sections for holiday advertisements. In 1822 Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters and his tale is largely responsible for the “right jolly old elf” image we see today.

In 1841, thousands of children flocked to a shop in Philadelphia to see a life-size model of Santa Claus and soon he could be seen “live” in all major department stores. The Salvation Army began dressing unemployed men as Santa in the 1890s and sending them into the streets of New York to raise funds for needy families. This reminded everyone of the generosity of the original Saint Nicholas and the real “reason for the season” which many will celebrate this week.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good “week.” 

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.