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Restorers come to aid of century-old church

STORY BY JULIE BUNTJER PAGE DESIGN BY JESSIE AYALA AND JILL KOOPMAN
DAILY GLOBE

newsarticle1.jpg ADRIAN ‚ Darrell Riehle lay flat on his back on a pair of boards, braced by scaffolding, some 25 feet above the floor of the altar in St. Adrian Catholic Church a week ago today.

Riehle was gold-leafing the ornate woodwork while his brother, Jerry, applied another coat of paint to the walls nearby. The brothers, third generation interior restorers, own Riehle Decorating of Cresco, Iowa. They specialize in restoring churches.

With a church like this, it's not work anymore, said Jerry Riehle. It gets to be fun with the architecture.

The church is undergoing an extensive redecorating project for the first time in 30 years, according to The Rev.. Gerald Kosse, St. Adrian parish pastor.

We're bringing it back to its beauty, he said.

Work began inside the church on Feb. 14. In addition to cleaning, varnishing and gold-leafing the church's four altars, the interior is being completely repainted, and new carpet, lighting and a PA system will be installed.

Church pews, removed in February, were dismantled and sent to Wisconsin, where they are being stripped in preparation for a new coat of stain and varnish. They are expected to be returned and installed in the church by late June. Work is slated to be complete by late June or early July.
While a wedding is planned in St. Adrian on July 9, Kosse said he isn't worried about having the church ready on time.

The last week is actually the organ coming in, said Kosse. They need to have all the carpet and pews in before that.
The organ pipes were removed and are being repaired, revoiced and retuned by a company in Sioux Falls, S.D.

There are actually two pieces to the organ — an old part and a new part, and they were never voiced together, said Kosse. It also needed a lot of repair.

The redecorating project and improvements are among the first of two stages in renovating the 105-year-old church. The second phase, said Kosse, will be to construct handicap-accessible restrooms in the basement, as well as new, more accessible church entrances. A third phase, which is further into the church's future, is to construct a new elevator large enough to transport a casket for funeral services.

We've been thinking about doing this for many years, said Kosse, adding that pledges through their Seeds of Faith campaign will fund the project's $383,000 first phase. Money remaining from the church's centennial fund was also used to pay for the redecorating costs.

We wanted 75 percent of the money in hand before we started, said Kosse. The second phase of the project is hoped to begin soon after the first phase is completed.

When Kosse arrived to serve St. Adrian Catholic Church in 1996, the church had already suffered quite a bit of damage. Re-roofing had been delayed for too many years, and water had seeped through the roof.

The damage from leaks was visible, said Kosse. When you get plaster wet and it dries out, it starts flaking. It was like snow ‚ it was turning to powder and falling (from the ceiling).

Since Ash Wednesday, parishioners have gathered for Mass in the church basement. Easter services found the basement especially crowded, but Kosse said they made do. We had it very easy to accommodate that many people downstairs, he added. St. Adrian Catholic Church serves 368 families, though Kosse also pastors at Wilmont and is Priest Moderator at churches in St. Killian and Lismore. A dedication of the restored St. Adrian Catholic Church is tentatively set for Aug. 14, said Kosse. Bishop Bernard Harrington, of the Winona Diocese, will be invited to the dedication Mass.

 

 

 

For all the saints

Project restores Kingsley church's glory

By Tim Gallagher, Journal staff writer

livingdesk.jpg

KINGSLEY, Iowa -- How well is the interior renovation project going at St. Michael's Catholic Church here?

Here's how.

Even non-Catholics are stopping by with cookies and brownies for workers.

Oh, has that impressed the four men of Riehle Decorating, a crew that has made Kingsley their home away from home since Sept. 7.

"We have really enjoyed the people here," says Jerry Riehle, who with brother, Darrell, represents the third of four Riehle generations to run the church decorating business. "Getting to know the people makes our trip worth it. But besides that, we've really enjoyed returning St. Michael's to its original glory."

St. Michael's Catholic Church, located on the west side of this Plymouth County community of 1,245, was constructed in 1915. Jerome Gollhofer's mother, Blanche Timmins, was one of the first children baptized in the church. Gollhofer, of Kingsley, is now proudly leading an interior restoration of the church, which some call a smaller version of the elaborate Remsen St. Mary's Catholic Church.

Mini? St. Michael's does hold in excess of 300 people.

"The altar is my favorite part of the church," said Gollhofer, one of four parishioners to direct the renovation. "I also love the statues and stained glass windows. You look around here and you see that the forefathers went beyond what they needed."

The parish is now returning the favor.

St. Michael's was last painted in 1974; an era, the painters say, when color schemes returned to basics. Some of the intricate stenciling adorning 30-foot arches was covered at the time with a pale "plane Jane" color scheme.

When the Riehles took the $200,000-plus job in September 2003, they promised to return stencils, gold leaf and more. Much, much more.

The company, which hails from Cresco, Iowa, started two months ago by removing all pews. "We stripped the pews, sanded them, restained them and varnished them," says Dennis Riehle, 27. "That part alone took three weeks of pretty hard work."

The crew installed half its scaffolding to reach the 37-foot ceiling inside the church and commenced painting and decorating. While Jerry and Darrell worked at the top of the church recently, Dennis applied two coats of paints to the Stations of the Cross depictions below.

"I'm two-toning the Stations," he says. "I put one color on and then shoot a deeper color over it."
The project, some three years in the making, will also see that new carpet and kneelers are installed. Some lights, says Gollhofer, will also be redone. And the bathrooms will be made handicap accessible.

The key, though, is the new paint job. It's more than a paint job.

"These guys aren't painters, they're artists," says Gollhofer, "They're craftsmen. We could have done this a lot cheaper, but when you see how much gold leaf their doing, you realize it's worth it."
The 23-karat gold leaf, found now throughout the church, will not tarnish, according to Jerry Riehle. "It will be just as brilliant 50 years from now," he says.

The Riehles add a fiberglass bonding agent to their paint process. It costs more, but it covers the company. In a way, that step is the Riehle stamp of approval.

"The fiberglass is a good bonding agent," Jerry Riehle says. "The fiberglass mesh is great for these old churches because they're going to crack and peel and this eliminates that. It's like making a whole new wall."

In church since 1939

While that state-of-the-art fiberglass process has only been around 15 years or so, Riehle Decorating has been a Midwest church fixture since 1939 when Frederick Riehle painted his first church. He soon trained his son, Frederick Jr., the father of Jerry and Darrell. Jerry and Darrell Riehle have been decorating churches since they were teen-agers.

Those men are now joined in the business by Dennis, who is Darrell's son, and Ron, who is Jerry's son. The foursome travels from city to city, setting up shop for projects that range from a few weeks to several months. They live in a camper Monday through Friday and return to Cresco each weekend.

Some Siouxlanders may recognize their work. Twenty five years ago, Jerry and Darrell painted St. Mary's Catholic Church in Alton, Iowa. Eighteen years ago they did some "touch up" work at St. Mary's in Remsen. They've completed recent projects at Holy Name Catholic Church in Marcus, Iowa, and United Methodist Church in Storm Lake, Iowa. They've also shown their skill in places such as Mitchell, S.D.; Dimock, S.D.; Bow Valley, Neb.; and Easton, Minn.

Upon completion of St. Michael's in Kingsley, the four Riehles head to Adrian, Minn., for a church project. That will complete 2004, which has seen them do work in churches from LaCrosse, Wis., to Yankton, S.D., to Bellevue,Iowa, to Castalia, Iowa, and then to Kingsley and Adrian.

"We've painted theaters and courthouses and we take a few homes around Cresco occasionally," says Dennis. "But 95 percent of our work is in church."

"We're in church more than the Pope," says Jerry, laughing.
They wouldn't be if they didn't enjoy it. The best part, he adds, is seeing satisfied parishioners like Gollhofer stopping by each day to monitor the progress (or drop off caramel rolls).

"We got this job just to paint the church in September 2003," Jerry Riehle recalls. "But then we had an artist do some sketches and we met with people here to talk about the colors. We prepared a decorative color sketch with the gold leaf and they liked it."

"We saw the designs and said that since we had the money, we should do it -- and do it right," Gollhofer says. "Parishioners want to restore it to the original design."
By the end of this month, it will be getting there.

That makes Jerry and Darrell Riehle smile. And give thanks.
"This is a church a guy could be proud of," Jerry Riehle says, standing atop scaffolding some 20 feet above the floor. "You'll be proud to send people here."

"I like this church," Darrell Riehle adds, while mixing paint at the altar. "If this were all plain, we wouldn't recommend it. With the stenciling and gold leaf, we'd like people to see it."
"It's a good career," Jerry Riehle concludes. "We've been blessed."

This story was published 11/14/2004 by the Living Desk.