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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Flesher Class For Girls (1922-1933)

A sign hung from the wall, their class motto, “ This above all: To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not be then false to any man.” (Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”).   Several verses were foundational: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)  “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). A phrase often repeated: “What would Jesus do?”
Orthodontist Dr. William E. Flesher and his wife, Abbie, joined Wesley on December 21, 1919 and remained members until their deaths, Dr. Flesher on July 3, 1962 and Abbie on December 5, 1971. Abbie was a paid pianist at the church from 1924 until she left Wesley circa 1932.  She would later return circa 1942 and remain until her death. The dates of the class are 1922-1933 based on materials found.[1]
"After Sunday School ca1925"
In 1921 Wesley had a Sunday school class for college and business people sponsored by Mrs. W.E. Flesher. In the summer or fall of 1922, Mrs. Flesher became the teacher of a Sunday school class for 9th or 10th grade girls, ages 14 or 15 years. According to Helen Sellers the Flesher Class for Girls “really started the Sunday Mrs. Flesher took the class as a substitute teacher, was  then taught by Mary Lanham (Arbuthnot).”  Sellers identified the following as charter members of the class: Elva Brown ; Jean Alexander; Mildred Armor; Elizabeth Dailey; La Vaughn Reneau; Elizabeth Hoffman; Mary Emma Brown ; Sarah Paul ; Ramona Parrick; Thelma Todd; Thelma Keel; Mildred Jines.
“Our teacher became the pianist of our church and soon was the regular teacher. She had formerly taught a Sunday School Class of girls in Frederick, Oklahoma. The class first met in a frame house across the street from the present sanctuary, where Kamp’s Courts Apartments are located.  When the first educational wing was completed in January 1927 the class met in the new building.
"Class Picnic" ca 1926 (Note rolled stockings!)
Mrs. Flesher was an excellent Sunday school class teacher. She was capable, efficient, effective, and a dynamic force for good in her community.  She immediately developed a rapport with the girls of her class that was to have a long lasting and a profound effect upon the girls.
Helen Sellers posed valuable questions in her book of memories about the class: “What was the attraction?—what aroused our enthusiasm and kept our interest?—Why did we grow and continue to grow through the years?—Follow me as I relate the many and varied activities of this Class and you will see.” She classed the answers in simple form as :”our teacher; learning to tithe; bible fund ; closing prayer; fellowship.”
Sellers was clear as to the impact Abbie Flesher made in the lives of her class, those girls she always called “my girls.”  A card  to the class while on a vacation to Arkansas helps explain:
“My dear girls:-
Of course, I couldn’t stand to let you have a meeting of the class on Sunday morning entirely without me. 
I just love you so deeply that it is a real sacrifice to be away for even one Sunday.
I pray God’s blessings upon you, my precious ones.
I read the other day someone’s comment upon Jesus. They said that Jesus had no child, so that we could all be His children,  and all share equally in His great love.
I have yearned for a little girl, yet prayed constantly, “Thy will be done.” Who knows but that God gave me no daughter, that you all should be my daughters, & share equally in my love? You are so, a part of my life.
Mrs. Flesher.”
Giving of herself and her time so unselfishly but always reminded that “Jesus was our teacher and that together we were learning about Him. No one could have sat through the meeting of this group and not been better for doing so. Through her pure thought and unselfish life, Jesus’ love and teachings were brought so close to us. We each learned to love Jesus so .  Often, at her direction , we asked each other the question, ‘ what would Jesus do?’”
The class learned to tithe and were encouraged by frequent donations of Mrs. Flesher’s uncle to insure they had adequate funds.  They established of their tithe money to specific purposes: A Christmas Fund; Party Fund (for others); Church Fund and Furnishing Fund and Bible Fund.
The Christmas Fund.  The tithes were augmented by free-will offerings and from this fund the class did different things. “At one time we took on a family of eight (8) in number…At Christmas we gave them a tree and gifts during the rest of the year supplied them with necessary food and clothing. One Christmas we gave a party in our Church consisting of dinner, tree and gifts for a number of poor children.  We also gave Christmas parties …to the children in the orphanage at Bethany.[2]
The Party Fund.  “We early learned that “It was more blessed to given than to receive” and as we grew older seldom were our parties for ourselves but for the less fortunate…An outstanding party to me, “ Helen Sellers noted was “ the Kid Party given by Mrs. Flesher on March 7, 1925. Such costumes and carrying on we did do! I still have a mental picture of Mildred Armour and Elizabeth Dailey coming in an old horse and buggy and parking in front. La Vaughn and I were dressed as twins, just at the frisky age . We had such fun.” Accompanying the description were photos and favors from the event. They also provided parties at the Orphanage in Bethany. “We took our decorations along… The little tots were so appreciative and happy to see us come…”
The Church Fund and Furnishing Fund saw the girl’s purchasing of a rug, curtains, chair covers for the class room where they are often tightly packed. “We were somewhat disappointed …that it had not been planned with much foresight as we soon outgrew it and we were packed in there many Sundays like sardines. There was no available space to even open the door.”  The class roll book of 1928-29 indicates membership swelled to 83 members. Many had addresses around the church from 8th street to 36th but some were as far west as the Bethany Home. The proximity to Oklahoma City University also meant that many college girls joined the group.
The Bible Fund insured all the girls had their own Bible and anyone who joined them had one as well. The teacher would often take Bibles and distribute them to people she met. An undated printed item in the Sellers class scrapbook (possibly from an early newsletter): “The Flesher Class, taught by Mrs. W.E. Flesher, is composed of college and business young ladies. There are 75 active  and 10 associate members. The officers are: President, Miss Virginia Brewer; secretary, Miss Aline Caruthers; treasurer, Miss Lillian Snipes; membership secretary, Miss Helen Sellers. 
Within the past year 10 of the girls have united with the church, five of whom have been by profession of faith. A large per cent of the members are tithers. They maintain a Bible fund, which is supported by tithes and offerings. Any girl not having a Bible may have one of these by signing the Bible list.  They have given 40 Bibles to girls in the past few months, which amounts to $180.  Each girl is reading and marking her entire Bible. They placed Jesus upon their Christmas gift list.  The result was that he received from us $75 at Christmas time.  Twenty poor children were given a Christmas party and dinner.  For the one week tithe offering they had $50, plus $20 left from Christmas, making $70 which they gave our church building fund.
A fellowship meeting, open to every girl in our church and Sunday school, is held each week.”
For a time, the class had its own lending library. Anyone who had “ helpful and inspiring books and cared to share  them with the class loaned their books for this activity.”
Some of the books included: The Call of the Upper Room (Katherine Logan); Splendor of God (Honore Morrow); Making the Most of Life ( J.R. Miller); In His Steps (Charles M. Sheldon); The Secret of a Quiet Mind ( John S. Bunting); Christ at the Round Table ( Stanley Jones).
Mrs. Flesher was so effective as the teacher of that particular class of girls that she continued as their teacher until circa 1932. At that time, many had married and had careers but they loved the class and the woman who become a teacher, surrogate mother, mentor and friend.
The Board of Education of the Methodist Church had always published standard Sunday School lesson materials that teachers were encouraged, in fact expected, to use.  Mrs. Flesher did not use the standard and accepted Sunday school materials. She preferred to develop and use her own material. Around 1931-1933 the Sunday school officials at Wesley decided that the class should conform and use the standard lesson materials.[3]
There was also the issue of the girls continuing in the class instead of moving into one of the established adult or young adult classes at Wesley.  Some felt that the girls had become too tied to their teacher rather than becoming active members of Wesley. They had begun as teenagers but were now young adults and some were even married but they enjoyed the class just as much as they had earlier. Mrs. Flesher declined, she resigned her position with the class and became the organist at the First Christian Science Church in downtown Oklahoma City.
A lovely and artistically created memorial album honors this teacher and this class.  In the pages of memories are glimpses that Mrs. Flesher was utilizing basic small group principles to build unity, rapport, value and spiritual vitality to the group.  It was noted they were instructed in the importance of learning to tithe and they always did that no matter how small the amount.  Every meeting of the class concluded by the group gathering in a circle, holding hands, and praying.  The indications are that Mrs. Flesher made the young girls feel accepted, loved, valued, and capable in an era where fast jalopies, bobbed hair and bathtub gin were constant temptations for youth.
The Flesher’s donated a water fountain in 1946 and one of the beautiful stained glass windows in Wesley is titled, “Christ, the Consoler.” It is located under the balcony on the north wall, and the donor is listed as “The Flesher Class.”  A history of 1976 stated, “It is reasonable to assume that Mrs. Flesher paid for the window in 1927 or 1928 and gave permanent credit to her Sunday School class.”  A scrapbook created by class member Helen Sellers in May 1938 indicates the funds were raised by the class members.
A group photo of the class on the front steps of the new sanctuary in 1928 was taken by Mitchell Byfield Studios, 907 N. Hudson, Oklahoma City.  Members identified in the photo included: Beatrice Joy Nelson, Jean Thoburn Wyes, Jean Keister Lundquiest, Siri Anderson Carlson, Ramona Allen Cheatwood, Laura Allen Rucker, Julia Alice Goff Wiley, Helen Sellers Sain, Lilliam Snipes,  Aline Carruthers Pfaff, Elly Anderson, Dorothy Downing Larkins Burg, Naomi Alfred, Dorothy (Dottie) Kennedy Davis, Margaret Thompson, Ima Strickland, Frances Aycock, Margaret Klein Wahl, Thelma Louise Saxon Baker, Mrs. William E. Flesher (Abbie, Teacher), Mary Carnahan, Lorraine Springer Schuneman, Mary Wallace, Isabelle Hugh Spangler, Marian Dierdorff, Mildred Armour Frizzell,  Elva Brown Alexander, Jean Alexander.

[From upcoming history...]

[1] Information on this class came from two sources, one was a written report from about the 1980’s and the other a memorial scrapbook created by one of the class members, Helen Sellers, in 1938, just a few years after the class was disbanded with the resignation of Mrs. Flesher.
[2] The facility mentioned was the Oklahoma Orphanage run by Miss Mattie Mallory and later became the Children’s Center, a medical site still in operation.
[3] This was during the tenure of Charles S. McCreight as chair of the Board of Education at Wesley (1930-1931) and Rev. G.H. Zentz was the pastor (1929-1932).

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