There’s a whole ward now in Southern California’s Lake Elsinore, with a Family History Center, and there are other nearby wards in places like Wildomar and Sun City and Perris, each with a modern chapel. In 1940, though, there were only about a dozen LDS families in the Elsinore Branch – the Mellons and Hales and Jensens and Bradshaws and Statons and a few others. Like most branches, they depended on missionary elders to help them with their meetings and the organization of their Sunday School and MIA programs.
They met in a rented hall, and like probably every other branch they looked forward to the day when they could build a chapel of their own. It could be small, because there were so few of them; it could be simple, because like all chapels in that era it would be built by volunteer labor; and it would be inexpensive, again because there were so few members to pay the expenses.
The branch got an enormous boost to their plans when a friendly non-Mormon resident of Lake Elsinore – I wish I knew his name – offered them a town lot without charge, as long as they could erect their chapel within the year. The branch contacted the Presiding Bishop’s office, who agreed to furnish the funds for purchasing materials, if the members could do the labor themselves.
Could they? They could. “If the Priesthood can’t build it, the women will,” declared Ellen S. Mellon.
An elder from Cardston, Alberta, James C. Cahoon, had some building experience, so he was assigned from the mission office to supervise the work on the chapel. The members began their work early in March, 1940, and things went well … at first.
Then the men, most of whom were farmers, had to turn to the spring planting and other early work on their farms. The foundation had been laid and walls laid to the roofline, but Elder Cahoon needed help raising the rafters, laying down the roof sheeting, and nailing on the shingles.
So, um, yeah. The sisters in the branch donned their overalls, ignored the mud on their shoes, and, led by Ellen Mellon, they turned up at the construction site ready to work. They raised the rafters, laid on the roof, and nailed on the shingles. Most of the men were still at work elsewhere, so the women kept on going, on the interior. They laid the floors and plastered the walls and ceilings.
They didn’t have to handle the painting themselves, though. Townspeople who had enjoyed watching the women at work turned out to help with that.
Apostle John A. Widtsoe happened to pass through Elsinore on a tour of the California Mission while the women were at work, and he gave them a name that they proudly adopted – the “Shingle Sisters.”
And Elsinore’s new chapel was dedicated on time, late in 1940.
Ladies, you rocked.