On the Record With... Margo Van Dan

Margo Van Dan poses for a portrait Friday at Alden United Methodist Church in Alden. Van Dan, who is currently Sunday school coordinator, has been a member of the 150-year-old church for 41 years.
Margo Van Dan poses for a portrait Friday at Alden United Methodist Church in Alden. Van Dan, who is currently Sunday school coordinator, has been a member of the 150-year-old church for 41 years.

Margo Van Dan is from a church almost as old as its town.

On Nov. 9, Van Dan will help Alden United Methodist Church in rural Harvard celebrate its 150th anniversary. The day marks the building's milestone, but the church community stretches back a couple of decades earlier, to the 1840s.

Yet until Van Dan, no one had tried to put on paper the history of Alden or its hometown church. Van Dan did just that, publishing "Alden, My Home," in 2010.

Last week, Northwest Herald reporter Shawn Shinneman sat down at the church with Van Dan to talk about her interest in history, decreasing attendance at the church, and why she feels so at home among Methodists.

Shinneman: So how long did it take you to sort of gather everything and write the book you were telling me about?

Van Dan: About two years.

Shinneman: And it was published.

Van Dan: It was published actually in 2010, but I've updated a couple times. My son ... got it printed on CreateSpace, which is an online printing company, and it's a lot less expensive for me to print it that way. It was costing me $9.97 to print it and I was charging $10 for the book. (laughs)

Shinneman: So it was a labor of love.

Van Dan: Yeah. It was something that needed to be told.

Shinneman: When did you get into history?

Van Dan: I've always been interested in it. My mother was interested in it. ... She wrote a lot about history.

And it was kind of fun for me to hear – everybody knew little bits of this and bits of that. But nobody had it all together. What I was trying to do was make a timeline, basically.

Shinneman: My perception at least is that probably a lot of these small towns, small areas have verbal histories but not always written histories.

Van Dan: Right. I've been surprised how many books I've sold. I figured if I sold 50 books I'd be happy, and I've sold a couple hundred.

Shinneman: To people outside of the area, too?

Van Dan: People who have grown up here have been very interested.

It hasn't been a place where people come and lived out their whole lives. That's pretty rare. It's a very small town, and if you want to have a job, there aren't hardly any in town.

Shinneman: How long have you been here?

Van Dan: 41 years. I'm one of the old-timers (laughs).

Shinneman: And you've been a part of the church that whole time?

Van Dan: Yeah. I was raised Lutheran, and one of our pastors went through and asked everybody what they started out being, and the majority of us – like 80 percent or more – had started out being something else before they became Methodist.

Shinneman: (pointing toward pews) You guys fill this up anymore?

Van Dan: Eh, not anymore. We have a bell-ringer who, if we get 50 people, rings the bell.

... I like being Methodist because people like to sing. I came from a Lutheran church and you barely opened your mouth. The organ was loud and that's all you heard.

Shinneman: I'm a Catholic and people are sometimes a bit reserved, myself included. Just not a whole lot of people singing.

Van Dan: I had one mother tell me she joined the Catholic church because she could be inconspicuous. She didn't want go to a small church where everybody knew her.

Shinneman: That's true, you can kind of slip in and out.

Van Dan: That's not true here. People say, "HI!"

Shinneman: And if you're the 50th person, the bell rings.

Van Dan: We make joyful noise.

Shinneman: That's probably a nice community feel, then.

Van Dan: It's not as much of a community church as when I first came here. The people that come, a lot of the older ones have retired from farms and moved to Harvard. We have quite a few that come from Harvard now. Our pastor is from Harvard.

I don't know. I'm not sure why other people have left.

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