Town, parish marks 175th anniversary Sunday

Lovingly restored antique tractors and enthusiastically organized family floats will fill Route E through Rich Fountain on Sunday.

The Mid-Missouri town and its social center — Sacred Heart Parish — celebrate 175 years nestled in an iconic valley with fertile farmland and an echo to the founders’ German homeland.

Like many of the Diocese of Jefferson City parishes, Sacred Heart was another of Father Ferdinand Helias’ church plants when he arrived from Belgium in 1838.

Rich Fountain derived its name from the nearby spring. But it was the settlement founded by Johann Struempf, an immigrant from Angermund, Rhineland, Germany, where Mass was celebrated with four families in May 1838.

The 70-entry parade will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday. It is monumental both as the kickoff to the day’s events and also for the logistics required to close the route to traffic for several hours.

Organizer Amy Frank remembers the 150th anniversary parade, when the high school marching band played despite the pouring rain.

Bishop John Gaydos celebrated a special Mass and shared dinner with the parish of about 160 families Sunday. That was for the church within, Frank said.

Sunday’s event is an invitation to Mid-Missouri — they’re hoping for an attendance of 5,000 — to share in the celebration of the community’s heritage, she said.

“The idea was to give our close-knit, German community time to come together and be around each other,” Frank said. “Then the celebration is a time to let loose and have fun.”

Neighbors have been preparing in their own ways for this event, some for more than a year.

Those in town may have added a new coat of paint to their homes or fixed up their yards. Several long-time farm families have been fixing up antique tractors and other items to show off in the parade.

The St. Ann’s Sewing Circle also has been busy quilting special items for the anniversary, too.

The Sacred Heart Married Ladies’ Sodality organized its first sewing circle in November 1930 with the intention to collect discarded clothing to mend and send to poor missionaries for distribution. Remnants and clothing no longer serviceable were pieced for quilts.

The circle, with about 25 members ages 50-90, has continued its mission. And in 1988 for the 150th anniversary, they added a new tradition of auctioning quilts at the parish picnic, the second Sunday in August.

The sewing circle will host a quilt show of family heirlooms, favorites and unusual quilts 1-6 p.m. in the school cafeteria.

Opening ceremonies will include posting of the colors by the Linn VFW Post and American Legion, remarks from Father Phil Niekamp, and singing from the church choir.

Tours will be offered of the Rectory and church. And the seventh- and eighth-grade students will perform a play about Father Helias at the school.

Entertainment will include Joe and Frankie Platt, the Mule Kickers, free bingo, the Gehlert family and Desperate Tymes.

Demonstrations of chair caning, broom making, arrow head flintknapping, blacksmithing and quilting will be ongoing. And food includes fried chicken and German fried potatoes.

Because of limited parking downtown, shuttles will pick up visitors at the ballpark at Route U and U.S. 50, and signs will be posted of other areas open for parking.

The limestone church with its red roof and tall steeple is eye-catching from any approach to the town.

But it’s the people, both those who’ve lived all their lives and those who grew up there and moved away, who make it a community, Frank said.

“Like Christmas Mass, when everyone comes back, it feels like you’re at home again,” Frank said. “People from the city love it; they can’t believe a place like this still exists.”

Correction: The original version of this article contained the wrong date for the celebration. The error has since been corrected in the above text to reflect the event is set for Sunday, May 26.

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