In episode three Pastor Rebekah shares how a documentary about a dead mouse inspired a new sermon series. Chelsea makes the case for the Timeless TikTok Awards Show. And there's a serious discussion of what the church may look like post-pandemic.
Orange County native
Thomas Newton Sparks was born in Orange, where his grandfather opened Spark’s Grocery. Newton went to Orange High School and attended VPI for two years.
He interrupted his schooling to serve in the Second World War. Newton became a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Armed Forces. He was a B-17 pilot and then a pilot instructor in the Army Air Corps.
A life in Orange
Newton met his future wife Emily Garnett in the 4th grade. She was born at Riverside, her family home near Locust Dale. They were married in the Orange Presbyterian Church in 1943. The couple returned to VPI, where Newton received a BS degree in Business. After graduation, they moved back to Orange. Newton joined Fray Insurance Agency and became co-owner.
Newton was very active in the community. He was Secretary of Orange County Electoral Board. He served on the Town Board of Zoning Appeals and the Orange Planning Commission. He was a Jaycee, as well as a charter member and past captain of the Rescue Squad. Newton was a Scout Master of Orange Troop 14, a member of the Orange Rotary Club and the American Legion Post 156.
Newton's service to OPC
Mary Emily Garnett joined OPC in March of 1934, along with her brother Seldon and sisters Susan, Frances, and twin, Nettie Lee. Newton was raised a Baptist, but he joined Emily as a member of Orange Presbyterian Church.
Newton actively served the church in many capacities. He taught Junior Boys for six years. He sponsored the Youth Fellowship with Emily. Newton was a Deacon and an Elder and also served on Presbytery Committees.
“Newton’s warmth and his sincere commitment are assets to our Session’s work.”
- Presbyterian Punch 1976
Newton was also deeply involved with the Men of the Church. He was in charge of the kitchen when they met for breakfasts, cooking for many many years. (Rumor has it he allowed no one to wash his seasoned skillet!)
Emily's service to OPC
Emily was also an active member of Orange Presbyterian Church all her adult life. She served with the Women of the Church (WOC) as, her mother, Nettie Mann Garnett did. Emily headed up the WOC’s Service Project for many years.
Fund-raisers included flea markets, parking lot sales, and mini-bazaars. The women offered services such as baking, transportation, sewing, and more. They sold notecards printed with a sketch of the new Sanctuary. The proceeds helped defray the principal of the Church’s building fund.
She was a member of the Night Circle of the WOC and served, at times, as chairman. Emily was one of the editors of the Presbyterian Punch for years. Emily was sometimes the kitchen chairman when the WOC held potluck supper meetings.
A life together
When they were not serving others, Newton and Emily enjoyed evenings with their friends. Lots of times they played bridge. Emily loved to knit and work crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. Newton loved to fish. They religiously kept their tradition of family vacations at Nags Head every summer.
Newton Sparks passed away in 2002 and Emily Sparks passed away in 2003. Their son, Thomas Newton Sparks, Jr., passed away in 2021. They are survived by Thomas’ wife, Barbara; son Philip and wife, Julie; daughter Ann Garnett and husband, Chris Freed; and son Edward and wife Lisa. At the time of their death, they had nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Newton and Emily served our church for many years. Over that time they participated in many charitable and civic activities in Orange. We are grateful also for their friendship.
- Jennie Hill Robinson
OPC History Team
In the second episode of OPC's podcast, Pastor Rebekah and Chelsea discuss the importance of family, and how their family experiences inform their worship practices.
Son of Orange County
Richard Lewis Sanford was born in 1920 at Woodley Farm near Orange, Va. He was the son of Harry Estil Sanford and Mary Lewis Sanford. Richard and his eleven siblings were the third generation to live at Woodley Farm.
Dick Sanford graduated from Orange County High School in 1939. He attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and graduated with an agronomy degree in 1943.
He joined the United States Army Air Force and served in World War II from 1943 until 1946. Dick was an aerial flight engineer in the 9th Air Force in the European Theater. His unit received the Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster. Dick was also twice awarded the Air Medal and three Campaign Stars.
Service to Waddell Memorial
After the war, Richard joined the U.S.D.A. Soil Conservation Service in Culpeper and Rappahannock Counties. At the time he lived in Rapidan. Dick served as Sunday School Superintendent at Waddell Memorial Presbyterian Church. He was also a Deacon and an Elder in the church.
Dick met Thelma Bates at a Pot & Kettle Club dance in Culpeper in 1947. Thelma was teaching High School English in Madison County. They married 18 months later. The couple had two children, Stephen Richard and Cynthia Gayle.
Dick's service to OPC
In 1955, Dick and Thelma transferred their membership to Orange Presbyterian Church. Dick served OPC as he had Wadell. He was an Elder, Deacon, and Sunday School Superintendant. He also served as Clerk of the Session and a Trustee.
Dick was also on the planning council for building the new sanctuary. He taught Adult Sunday School class from time to time and was active as president of the Men of the Church.
“Mr. Sanford’s steadiness and his concern for people’s feelings make him a faithful member of the session.”
- Presbyterian Punch 1976
Service to Orange
For forty years, Dick was the estate manager of Grelen Farms in Orange County. As such, he and was recognized as an agricultural leader. Dick served on many local organizations, including the Orange County Nursing Home board.
“On August 22, 1982, the Sacrament of Baptism was administered to Richard Hill Sanford, infant son of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Richard Sanford. Among those attending were Mrs. Mary Lewis Sanford, young Richard’s great-grandmother and former member of this Church; Richard Lewis Sanford, Richard’s grandfather and current member of the Session, baptized in this Church June 12, 1921; Richard’s father, Stephen Richard Sanford, baptized in this Church July 25, 1963. Also attending was Samuel Ross Sanford, baptized in this Church July 25, 1926 and currently Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg and representing that congregation of which Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Sanford are members.”
-Emma H. Bartley, Historian
A life in education
Thelma Sanford graduated from public schools in Madison County. She returned there for her teaching career, spanning 28 years. In 1947, she received a degree in English and Science from Mary Washington College. Thelma later obtained a Masters Degree in educational counseling from the University of Virginia.
Thelma was a teacher and guidance counselor at Orange County High School for 18 years. She also was Curriculum Coordinator and Guidance Counselor at what was then known as Piedmont Technical Education Center in Culpeper County.
Thelma was a member of the Orange County Historical Society, the James Madison Museum, and the Friends of Montpelier.
Thelma's service to OPC
She was a member of the Orange Presbyterian Church for 60 years. Thelma faithfully participated in and supported the work of the church in many ways. She served as an Elder and was the church historian for five years. She was active in the Women of the Church and for a time, served as Secretary.
Thelma Pearl Bates Sanford passed away in 2014 and Richard Lewis Sanford passed away in 2016. They are survived by a son, Stephen Sanford and his wife, Norma of Orange; a daughter, Cynthia Webster and her husband, Thomas of Roanoke; six grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.
Orange Presbyterian Church has been blessed by the many generations of this Sanford family and their Christian principles.
- Jennie Hill Robinson
OPC History Team
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“It should be noted that the MEN of the ORANGE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH is a loosely structured organization. Most of the time there is only a leader and one to take care of the funds. Elections are not conducted - individuals are only appointed to serve after agreeing to do so.
Their meetings are regularly on the third Sunday of each month, beginning in September and ending in May. Usually, we have a speaker following an 8:30 am breakfast. Those attending make a donation to defray the cost of the food.
A group of four or five men meet in the kitchen on or about 5:00 am to prepare eggs, bacon, biscuits, juice, and sometimes stewed apples.
The cooks are under the direction of Newton Sparks. Delbert Faulconer is on biscuits; Ted Scott on eggs. Skinny Redmon is in charge of setting up tables and arranging napkins, silver, and coffee cups. Others from time to time in the kitchen offering advice and assistance are Atwell Somerville, Oliver Lyne, and Dan Sale.”
David Halpin, President MOC
Legendary breakfast fellowship
The Men of the Church (MOC) breakfasts were something to look forward to. One year, the MOC prepared breakfast for the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Service and White Gift party. The entire congregation was invited. Another year, they entertained the choir and their spouses at breakfast.
Once, they served a loyalty supper. It was a pancake supper, giving each person a chance to affirm his or her loyalty to Christ and his church.
Sometimes, the men attended a joint breakfast program with the Methodist and Baptist MOC.
Also, they invited all the ladies in the church family to breakfast on Mother’s Day. The men’s choir and Lois Shanks presented a delightful “Ladies Day” musical program. The list of groups the MOC entertained goes on and on.
Good food, with food for thought
In addition to enjoying breakfast together, members heard excellent speakers from the community. They discussed current affairs and other interesting topics.
Subjects included Team Mission work in Guinea and relief work in Guatemala. Speakers shared the spiritual experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail. and reported on Orange County Natural History Day Camp.
Orange County Sheriff Bill Faulconer told of some sheriff needs. Rev. Forrest Porter came to talk about the local Food Pantry. Ellen Ober (Pitera) spoke about teaching in Kenya. Barry and Craig Jacobs shared stories about their mission trip to Nicaragua. Howard Berckman spoke about growing up in China.
The Honorable Frank W. Somerville was a guest speaker in 1997. The Women of the Church were invited to hear him speak.
Stewards of God's house
The MOC sponsored several clean-up days a year at the church, with pruning, raking, etc. They painted and made repairs to the manse. They built new shelves and painted the Pastor’s Study.
The group added new storage cabinets for the handbell choir and nesting tables for their performances. They renovated the choir room with new carpeting and a new ceiling. And they painted the wall.
MOC member Charles Bowman handcrafted and installed by new bookshelves in the library. In 1982, the group installed a chair rail in the Fellowship Hall and painted the room.
The MOC joined with the Women of the Church to have yard sales and divided the proceeds. They made monetary contributions to different missionary and local causes. And they donated funds toward the church debt.
Fellowship in softball
In 1981, the MOC sponsored a softball team made up of members of OPC. It was an enjoyable time of Christian fellowship in friendly competition.
Buckshot “Cool Hand” Clements was the pitcher and team manager. The infield was Roger “Boom Boom” Gardner, Glenn “Flash” Morris, Scotty “Trigger Arm” Clements, Terry “Slick” Buyer, Ted “Hard Hat” Buyer and Charles “Slugger” Bowman.
Covering the outfield like a blanket were Lynn “Trigger” Clements, John “Big Man” Lee, Ricky “the Rocket” Sherman, “Joltin” Joey Miller, Andy “The Hawk” Hutchison and Howie “Hairy” Berckman. Injuries temporarily sidelined the Fitch boys, “Peerless” Perry and “Tearless” Jim.
Passing the baton
The MOC continued on with their work. They invited Bob Eason, Bill McClellan, Rick Sherman and others into their kitchen to cook. Newton Sparks, Delbert Faulconer, and Carl Roberts retired in 1992, after 25 years of service as cooks for the Men of the Church. That’s dedication.
- Jennie Hill Robinson
OPC History Team
The next generation
Donald Roderick Ober was the son of Woodbury and Jane Ober. He met Vibeke Eriksen of Denmark here in Orange County and and they married in 1965.
Don joined Orange Presbyterian Church in 1948. Vibeke joined shortly after the couple married.
Vibeke still speaks today about the warmth of the congregation and how welcome she felt.
The Obers have two children, son Poul Hambleton Ober and daughter Ellen Eriksen Ober.
Don serves the church
Don was elected a Deacon, then ordained and installed an Elder. He was active in the Men of the Church. Don was also involved with Hunters for the Hungry. This program delivered venison that was available to the Food Pantry.
Don also helped with maintaining the church property. He organized workdays for members to help with clean-up.
The President Madison Inn
The President Madison Inn (PMI) adjoins Orange Presbyterian Church. At one time this hotel was owned by the Sherman family. In 1977 they sold it to John Markham. He converted it to an adult living facility.
Part of the process involved filling in PMI's unused swimming pool. A group of OPC members offered to help. Don Ober and Ann Somerville were two of those volunteers.
The Episcopalian Ladies started a lunch program for the PMI residents. Vibeke was part of the group from OPC that helped with this program.
Vibeke serves the church
In 1975, Vibeke led the church kindergarten class. She worked with the church Youth Group alongside Ann Garnett Sparks.
Vibeke was also active in the Women of the Church in the 1980s. She was chair of Ecumenical Missions and Relations. She headed the Luncheon Circle for several years. Vibeke also enjoyed putting flowers in the church on occasional Sundays.
Vibeke joined the Board of Deacons in 1986. She was chair of the Fellowship Committee when the Shepherd Groups went active. In 1988, Vibeke was ordained and installed in the Session.
Don and Vibeke Ober opened their farm, Rounton, for several years for the annual church picnic. Everyone brought their own lunch and chair, and there were games for the children.
Their daughter Ellen, and husband, Rob Pitera, now live at Rounton Farm with their two sons, Charlie and Douglas. With Vibeke, they turned the farm into an event venue welcoming many groups.
Don and Vibeke's son Poul and his wife Priscilla have two children, Olivia and Douglas.
Don Ober passed away in 2013. His family remains dedicated to Orange County in many ways -- through the school system, youth groups, and their place of worship.
- Jennie Hill Robinson
OPC History Team