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Leaders receive funds to restore 130-year-old Buxton church building into cultural center

Group hopes to raise enough funds to repair roof to transform site into a cultural center

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Leaders of the Grue Church Project are working to raise funds to restore the Grue Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in rural Buxton, N.D., and transform it into a cultural and social center for the region.
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BUXTON, N.D. — Leaders of a fundraising effort to save Grue Lutheran Church in rural Buxton, North Dakota, have received a $44,900 grant from the American Scandinavian Foundation and $7,500 from the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

Most of the funds will go for programming, not structural improvements.

The funds will boost the group’s ongoing efforts to transform the 130-year-old church, located 7 miles northeast of Buxton, into a cultural center and venue for events such as weddings, family reunions and occasional worship services.

The grant from the American Scandinavian Foundation, based in New York, will be used for public programs and community projects that are focused on the Scandinavian folk arts and cultural traditions in the Upper Midwest, said Bobbi Hepper-Olson, chair of the five-member board directing the project.

Hepper-Olson, of rural Buxton, and other board members have sketched out plans for several events this year that are “Scandinavian-related in some way, shape or form,” she said.

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Those events could include classes, workshops, performances, ancestry, folk parts, artisanry installations, lectures, community outreach and others.

The American Scandinavian Foundation funds will be used for programming at these events, but they cannot be used for facility improvements, Hepper-Olson said. “We’re kind of in a dilemma” in that the grant provides money to host events, but not to restore the physical structure in which to hold them.

For the most pressing project, removing and replacing the roof shingles, the group has raised about $20,000, and has about $16,000 in committed funds, toward its $50,000 goal, she said. “So, we’re almost there. We’re hoping by spring that we’ll have enough money to fix the roof and keep the water out — that’s the most important thing.”

While the building is “pretty structurally sound,” the roof repair is “critical” to stop the water damage, said Hepper-Olson, an architect whose office is located in a 129-year-old bank building she restored in Buxton.

Some of the funds provided by the state arts council have been used to make a few improvements inside the building, she said.

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Bobbi Hepper-Olson, a Buxton architect is part of a group working to save Grue Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church, near Buxton. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Leaders of the Grue Church Project have launched a GoFundMe website, www.gofundme.com/f/grue-church-project , to generate income for building restoration.

At 130 years old, Grue Lutheran Church is probably one of the oldest church structures in this area, Hepper-Olson said. Many have been abandoned or destroyed as their congregations dwindled in size.

“It’s one of those things, we can’t save them all, and we can’t tear them all down,” Hepper-Olson said, reflecting on the church project as well as historical preservation in general. “We feel that we have found a purpose to save (the church) and use it for cultural events, even if they’re only a couple times a year. We feel it’s worth saving.

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“Most of us that are involved, our families were part of those 63 families that started the church. So it just feels like it’s part of our heritage and culture and mission to be a part of that.”

“As an architect, I just see so many of them being torn down — and I understand, if there isn’t a use for them anymore,” Hepper-Olson said. “It doesn’t take much to keep them up. You have to have a group that’s willing to do it and I think we have a good group that’s willing to do it. But we do need help; we can’t do it by ourselves.”

The congregation of the Grue Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church closed in 2020, she said. “They were down to, I think, four or five active families. Then what do you do with it if you close it? They were actually, literally within a month or two of burning Grue Church down. And we just hated to see that happen out there.”

The youngest active members of the former congregation “have been extremely supportive and are more than willing to help us with whatever we need to do” for events and various projects at the church, she said.

“I do think there’s a lot of people out there who are willing to show up and help out,” but don’t necessarily have time to get involved in the planning.

Leaders of the Grue Church Project are also encouraging people in the area who are planning family reunions, to consider scheduling them to coincide with Buxton Days, the date for which has not yet been set but is usually around the Fourth of July.  

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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