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The Shingle Sisters of Lake Elsinore, California

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 25, 2011

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.



17 Comments »

  1. Neat story!

    Comment by Stephanie — October 25, 2011 @ 7:35 am

  2. Love this story. I grew up not too far from there, and my sister lives there now. I will suggest she reads this!

    Comment by Karen — October 25, 2011 @ 8:46 am

  3. ignored the mud on their shoes

    [snicker] I’ll bet you enjoyed writing that line!

    Comment by Last Lemming — October 25, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  4. *wide-eyed innocence*

    Glad you enjoyed it, Stephanie and Karen. Just another tale of Latter-day Saints doing what needed doing!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 25, 2011 @ 9:16 am

  5. What was “that era”? The Snowflake Ward chapel, which was built sometime in the mid-1930s, which burned down very soon after it was dedicated and was rebuilt very shortly after that, was built by professionals. There may have been some volunteer labor involved–but the building wasn’t designed and the construction wasn’t supervised by a missionary. (Of course, there would not have been any missionaries in Snowflake Arizona back then.)

    Comment by Mark B. — October 25, 2011 @ 10:35 am

  6. Great story! I’m totally impressed. If I had been in their place, while I would have been willing to don overalls and get to work, I doubt I would have the skill or ability to get it done, so hats off to them!

    (And when I first saw the title, I misread “shingle sisters” as “single sisters”. Go figure.)

    Comment by Keri Brooks — October 25, 2011 @ 11:42 am

  7. Mark B. (5) “that era” was apparently 1940 — according to the 2nd sentence.

    And, fwiw, when I read the title I assumed “Shingle” was the sister’s last name

    Comment by Kent Larsen — October 26, 2011 @ 5:05 am

  8. Loooove. That story is fantastic–including the mud. :)

    Comment by Miri — October 26, 2011 @ 9:48 am

  9. I’m impressed not only by the “mud on their shoes” but by the fact that they plastered the interior walls. For those of us used to drywall with just a little taping and sanding, a complete plastered wall is a huge effort to get it flat, straight, and smooth. These sisters indeed rocked!

    Comment by kevinf — October 26, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

  10. They were the women, recently forged and tempered by the Great Depression (which was pretty much still in effect in 1940, if I understand history) who would soon go on to be “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII.

    Comment by Bookslinger — October 26, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  11. My mom and I were baptized in this building in July of 1970. The baptismal font was under the stage where the leaders sat during church. We moved all of the chairs and the podium, then pulled up the wooden floor that covered the font. (Lake) Elsinore was still a small branch in 1970, maybe 35 members attending. Tillman Turley was our Branch President. Within several years though, many members moved out to Elsinore from Orange County. I remember the hot summers with over 100 people attending. If you came late to church, you had to sit out at the front lawn on metal folding chairs with the sun beating down. We had good memories in the Elsinore Branch. A heartfelt thanks to all of the members that built the chapel and welcomed us. Emma Hales will always have a special place in my heart.

    Comment by Mike Waterworth — February 10, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

  12. Emma and Herb Hales were the stake missionaries that taught and baptized my parents in the 1950’s. I grew up attending that building and was baptized in the font under the stage in 1969. I have very fond memories of our tiny branch and watching it grow over the years.

    Comment by Beth Merrifield Vance — February 10, 2013 @ 10:50 pm

  13. I was baptized there at the age of 8 in 1961. The branch finally became a ward in late 1973, just after my husband and I were married. Ward boundaries stretched from beyond Temecula to Alberhill, a distance of over 20 miles. Now there are fives stakes. We moved out of that building in 1977 and sold it to another church. The building is still in use. They have installed pews, where we had folding chairs, which was convenient for us because we also had dances there, and branch dinners, and Christmas parties, and all the other activities that go on in an LDS cultural hall these days. Well, except basketball!

    Comment by Laurie Merrifield Snider — February 11, 2013 @ 7:57 am

  14. It’s wonderful to read the memories of you who know that building! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 11, 2013 @ 8:28 am

  15. I have many great memories of growing up in this small branch with the strong ‘pioneers’ of the area as my teachers and guides! My grandmother, Wanda Stokes, was one of the shingle sisters. I was baptised in the font, hidden under the stage, July, 1955, by Herb Hales. Emma Hales taught early morning seminary in the 1960’s in the little addition building in the back.

    Comment by Ruth Munoa Odekirk — February 11, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

  16. Stan and I were two of those who moved to Lake Elsinore from Orange County, arriving in 1975. Mike and Marie Phillips and Don and Lynn Pierce, John and Marie Moore and their three daughters Mary Alice, Caroline and Donna all arrived about the same time. We all have great memories of that wonderful chapel and the people we met there. We too are thankful for the shingle sisters we were able to meet thirty years later in the ward!

    Comment by Mary and Stan Crippen — February 14, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

  17. What strong women! I am always amazed with the things that volunteers can accomplish.

    Comment by Jami — February 15, 2013 @ 7:03 am

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