Herkie’s Story

Henrietta Schraner

 Known to all as “Herkie,” Henrietta Schraner was born almost 88 years ago in the house on the corner of Race Hill Road and Route 80, the home she still occupies today.  She has attended NMCC ever since.  Herkie gives new meaning to the term “active” member, having contributed her talents and considerable energy to nearly every aspect of church business over the years.

In 1995, she became the first recipient of the Henrietta “Herkie” Schraner Service Award, which was created in her honor.  The award has since been presented periodically to other members, in recognition of “extensive dedicated service to the community of NMCC.”

Herkie is a vibrant link to North Madison’s past and a model for a strong tomorrow for our church and its members.

So, you were baptized here in 1925?

 Maybe, but I was born late in the year, and with winter coming on, there’s a good chance that wouldn’t have taken place until the spring of 1926.  Route 80 was just a dirt road back then and the town didn’t plow it.  Making it to church really depended on the weather.

We only had a couple of pot belly stoves for heat, so it was cold in the pews!  A generation earlier, it was much tougher.  My mother (Olive Smith Schraner) could remember bringing foot warmers from home when she was a girl – hot bricks wrapped in flannel.  Can you imagine?

We still think of Madison as a small town today, but I suppose we are pretty cosmopolitan in comparison to when you were growing up.

 Oh, yes.  It was a different world.  I graduated from Daniel Hand in 1943 and I had less than 30 classmates.  Several of those were tuition paying students from Westbrook and Old Saybrook, which didn’t have their own high schools yet.

North Madison was quite isolated.  The church was the center of social life here.  It was the only social life.

How was NMCC different?

 Well, of course it was smaller.  This was way before the new section was added.  There was just the original sanctuary and not even a parking lot.  The kitchen was in the basement.  The congregation was also much smaller.  Tiny, actually.  At one time, only about 25 people came most Sundays and even fewer in the winter.

Didn’t that make it difficult for the church to keep going?

 Yes, it was a constant struggle.  It became so serious that at one point a merger with the First Church downtown seemed imminent.  My mother and her friend Josephine Hathaway were the two real pillars of NMCC at that time.  They worked closely with Rev. James English (Superintendent and Treasurer of the Connecticut Conference of Congregational Christian Churches from 1936-1962) to prevent that from happening.

 With so few members, how did you supplement pledges to meet church expenses?

 Lots of fund raisers. Everybody knows about our Harvest Dinner.  I was in charge of that for years and it’s still a big event on our annual calendar.  But I bet most folks don’t know that we used to host a dinner every month.  We had no choice – it was do or die.

These dinners had seasonal themes.  We had a strawberry festival in the spring, a chicken barbeque in July and a peach shortcake festival in late summer.

This was hard work.  For instance, we picked 120 quarts of berries for the strawberry festival at Bauer Farms.  But we had fun and made good friends too.  We knew we were all in this together and that the future of the church depended on our efforts.

Our group was called the Ladies’ Aid Society.  We also sewed quilts to be auctioned and organized rummage sales and the Christmas Fair.

And you still found time to do more?

 I just tried to pitch in wherever I was needed.  I sat on the Ways and Means Committee, which I guess would be the equivalent of today’s Stewardship Committee.  I served as a deacon and taught Sunday School too.  Most recently, I retired from my position as Clerk.

Does your dedication to service stem from deep feelings of spirituality?

 I’d truly have to say my nature is more practical than spiritual, but I do know that I experience the presence of God when I come to church.  I just feel better the whole week long after I participate in our Sunday service.  This is my church. It’s where I feel at home and the place from which I draw my strength.  So many wonderful memories!  It’s a part of my life I can’t imagine being without.

What advice can you offer the younger members of our congregation?

 To not take NMCC for granted.  We are so fortunate to have it.  This little church has never had it easy, but if we all do our share to keep it alive, it will continue to endure for our children and generations to follow.